Spring Break with Vet Students

This past week Nancy, Mike, and I took 9 second-year veterinary students and a zoological medicine resident on the road to talk about wildlife medicine. Although ostensibly this is a legitimate course, we had so much fun that I’m pretty sure the students forgot they were in “class”! Although the course is about many aspects of wildlife medicine beyond oil spill care, because Mike teaches the class, OWCN staffers and affiliates play a prominent role.

We started out at the Wildlife Investigations Lab on Monday, where students met with California Dept of Fish and Game (DFG) veterinarians and biologists. They heard some lectures, but much of the day was spent in interactive and hands-on activities at the facility in Rancho Cordova. On Tuesday, we headed out to Grizzly Island, where we met Tim and the current DFG staff. Before he joined OWCN, Tim worked for DFG, and one of the many positions he held in the Department was manager of a wildlife area in Northern California similar to Grizzly Island. The students learned about the challenges of managing a multiuse wildlife area, and saw Tule elk, American white pelicans, numerous waterfowl and wading birds, and raptors. Under Nancy’s direction, they even rescued an injured Canada goose!


From Grizzly Island, we headed down to Cañada de los Osos Ecological Reserve, a protected piece of state land adjacent to Henry Coe State Park. Here we met Dr. Dave Jessup, wildlife veterinarian, and Henry Coletto, reserve manager, who took us on a walk around the property. After getting settled in the cabin, Dave, Henry, and Henry’s wife Martha (also a biologist) fed us a fabulous barbeque dinner and then regaled us with stories and lectures about elk, deer, wild pigs, and the history of the reserve.

The next morning we talked about the wonders of radiotelemetry, and Nancy tried to stump the students by hiding a transmitter on the property. These students were on the ball, though, and they worked together to use the telemetry equipment and find the transmitter without too much trouble. Henry got in the action too, and hid a radiocollar while the students were eating lunch. They found that one too, and along the way we had multiple sitings of newts and frogs, who emerged into the open after a rainy morning.


The afternoon was the highlight for many students, as Mike and Dave took out the darting equipment and we had target practice.

Dr Dave discussing firearm safety

On Thursday we headed to the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center, a.k.a otter palace, and the students learned all about sea otters from biologists and veterinarians there. Dr. Melissa Miller, sea otter pathology expert, showed the students some key aspects of sea otter anatomy on a couple of recently deceased otters. Because the facility is the major resource in California in the case of an oil spill affecting sea otters, the students learned a bit about spill response too.

Friday was the final day of the course, but it was the highlight for some. We spent the day at the Marine Mammal Center, an OWCN member organization, and students worked with veterinarians, vet technicians, and husbandry staff to treat elephant seal pups. In the afternoon, we joined the staff for their medical rounds, and then the students had the opportunity to help with some marine mammal necropsies.

It was a great group of students and I’m glad they were willing to give up the idea of a vacation during their spring break to learn about wildlife instead.