A new vet: congratulations Dr Hertz!

Feeling incredibly proud of this man today. Dr Hertz Andrianalizah successfully defended his thesis to complete the requirements to obtain the degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar and he did so with the highest honors!

Hertz is a bright young veterinarian with a special interest in conservation medicine and the one health concept. He accompanied me during my previous trips in Betampona and assisted me while working on his own project in the reserve. His research focused on disease exposure in livestock and wildlife and evaluated some risk factors linked to animal husbandry practices in the vicinity of the protected area. A massive endeavor that he managed to complete while attending classes and internships at the DESMV and his role with diverse associations such as the WWF Club Vintsy which he presided. Hertz has shown strong leadership qualities and is an incredible problem solver. I relied heavily on him for many aspects of my research and he is a big part of the progress that have been made so far. In fact, completing his dissertation and defending his thesis did not seem enough for Hertz so now he is co-authoring an article that will be submitted in the upcoming weeks.  Now, I am extremely proud of calling him Dr Hertz and welcoming him in the veterinary profession. Wish him the very best in his future career and hope that we will continue to work together.

Building Local Capacity in Conservation Medicine.

Although most veterinarians graduating from the Departement d’Enseignement des Sciences et Médecine Vétérinaires (DESMV), veterinary school of Antananarivo, Madagascar will not be directly involved in wildlife medicine, they can still play a role in the conservation of Madagascar’s unique fauna. With this in mind, the DESMV in collaboration with the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG) organized the 2015 symposium on conservation medicine and wildlife health at the Ivoloina Park between Sept 21st and 26th 2015. The fundamental objectives of the workshop were to introduce finishing veterinary students to the basic concepts of conservation medicine, provide them with an overview of Madagascar’s faunal biodiversity as well as  the pathogens and diseases of greatest concern to Madagascar’s endemic species and introduce students to techniques used in the field to capture wildlife, collect biological samples, ensure the animal’s safety and welfare. We also wanted future veterinarians to recognize the role they can play in conservation medicine and above all leave the workshop more inspired, enthused and motivated to contribute to conserving Madagascar’s wildlife. The symposium was attended by 16 veterinary students from the DESMV, a student from the VetAgroSup Campus Veterinaire (French veterinary School of Lyon) and veterinary professionals from the DESMV, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Ambatovy, the Tsimbazaza Zoo, and the University of Missouri Saint Louis.

Speakers covered various topics on biodiversity conservation and health of Malagasy wildlife including the natural history of Madagascar, lemurs’ diseases in the wild and in captivity, and the legislative aspects of keeping endemic animals in captivity. Dr Haja talked about wildlife anesthesia and immobilization techniques he uses at his site while Dr Tsanta, an alumnus of the 2009 symposium and now a wildlife veterinarian at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust presented her work as a first responder for the rehabilitation of seized tortoises and the health and care of chelonians in captivity. Through various hands on activities, students also had the opportunity to practice their skills at examining a lemur and a tortoise, learn the basics of telemetry and other methods used commonly in the field of wildlife research.

Finally, students were also given the chance to present and receive feedback on their thesis research project. Subjects varied from the prevention of diseases in honey bees using natural products to the parasites of crocodiles (Crocodilus niloticus) in captivity. Mr Eric from the Ministry of Environment offered several projects and proposed collaborations to a couple of students regarding the health of reptiles and amphibians, a subject that has become a priority for the Ministry.

We would like to thank the Saint Louis Zoo through the Wildcare Institute for funding this project and I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to Drs Tsanta Rakotonanahary, Veronika Smart, Haja Rakotondrainibe and Mr Eric Robsomanitrandrasana for their conferences and the guidance that they have provided to the students throughout the symposium, the staff of the MFG and especially Ingrid Porton, Nicole Vally, Christian Rambeloson, Flavien Fasy and Maya Moore for their help and support organizing this workshop, the keepers of the Ivoloina Zoo for their patience and cooperation during animal manipulations, and ASISTEN-travel for arranging the transportation of attendees.

Misaotra and hope to see you next year for the 2016 joint DESMV-MFG conservation medicine symposium.

Veterinary Expeditions-Madagascar 2015

I was honoured to be invited as the guest speaker for the 2015 Veterinary Expeditions-Madagascar. This program led by Drs Carol Walton and Rick Lecouteur from the UC Davis veterinary school took a group of 22 veterinarians (mostly small animal and exotic practitionners) from the United States and Europe through various ecosystems of Madagascar to discover the beauty of the island, its biodiversity and the Malagasy people.

During two weeks in August, we visited 6 National Parks and reserves and saw countless species of endemic birds, reptiles and mammals including the endangered Red Tailed sportive lemur (Lepilemur ruficaudatus) in Ifaty, the golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus) in Ranomafana, the Giant coua (Coua gigas) in Zombitse National Park and many other marvels of nature.

In addition, I had to give a series of lectures regarding the health and diseases of Malagasy wildlife both free ranging and in captivity, present various research projects and different conservation issues faced by Madagascar. This RACE approved program provided 34 hours of continuing education (CE) to American veterinarians.

Carol Walton, DVM has led the NAVC (North American Veterinary Community) for a number of years and offers tours for veterinarians to destinations such as Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa and Madagascar.

New grant: Expanding Malagasy veterinarians perception of their role in biodiversity conservation.

I am thrilled to report that I applied for and obtained a grant from the Saint Louis Zoo through the Wildcare Institute for a project entitled : “Building Local Capacity in Conservation Medicine – Meet the Multidimensional Challenges of Conserving Madagascar’s Endangered Species”. This proposal requested funding to organize a conservation medicine workshop for University of Antananarivo veterinary students that will increase students’ awareness of a veterinarian’s role in wildlife conservation and gain practical experience while also contributing to larger conservation objectives.
In 2009, the DESMV’s Zoo and Conservation Medicine Club, organized the first of a series of trainings on Conservation Medicine with the participation of local and international experts. Students were introduced to the concepts of conservation medicine, one health and had the opportunity to learn and practice field methods in Conservation Medicine. These workshops have proven invaluable for students to develop their knowledge and skills in conservation medicine but also gain important networking opportunities that benefit students and professionals alike.

With this grant, we propose to organize a similar training in collaboration with the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Sciences (DESMV) of the University of Antananarivo and the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG). A group of veterinary students from the University of Antananarivo will be selected to participate in the workshop at the Ivoloina Conservation Training Centre, Toamasina, Madagascar. This year’s lecturers include Drs Randy Junge from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Tsanta from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Haja from Ambatovy, Jonah from GERP, Cathy Williams from the Duke Lemur Center and other international experts in wildlife health and conservation medicine.

The fundamental objectives of the workshop are to:

– Introduce the students to the basic concepts of conservation medicine,

– Provide them with an overview of Madagascar’s faunal biodiversity,

– Provide relevant examples of conservation threats such as the vulnerability of small populations to stochastic events.

– Introduce students to techniques commonly used in the field

– and introduce Malagasy veterinary students to their potential role as veterinarians in conservation medicine.

I am very excited about this project and I would like to thank all the friends and colleagues who have contributed (and still are contributing) to this by developing the idea, providing feedback and/or encouragements.

Check out below a gallery of photos from previous training workshops.

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Opportunité de stage vétérinaire

En vue de ma prochaine mission et de mon projet de recherche, j’offre une opportunité de stage à un étudiant vétérinaire du DESMV-Université d’Antananarivo.

Opportunité de stage vétérinaire

Madagascar Fauna & Flora Group et le DESMV offrent une opportunité de stage à un(e) étudiant en médecine vétérinaire intéressé(e) par la santé de la faune et/ou la santé à l’interface homme et environnement.

L’étudiant sélectionné accompagnera un vétérinaire de la faune, specialisé en épidémiologie et écologie lors d’une mission de recherche sur le terrain. Le projet portera sur la santé animale à l’interface homme et environnement dans la réserve naturelle de Betampona, Madagascar. Sous la supervision d’un vétérinaire et de techniciens, l’étudiant participera à la capture, l’anesthesie d’animaux sauvages et domestiques ainsi que la collecte et l’analyse d’échantillons au laboratoire.

La mission aura lieu entre juin et novembre 2015.
L’étudiant sélectionné pourra s’il le désire rédiger sa thèse de doctorat en médecine vétérinaire à partir des résultats obtenus.

Le postulant doit:

– Être étudiant vétérinaire de 5ème ou 6ème année
– Être de nationalité Malagasy
– Avoir un intérêt pour la santé de la faune, la conservation ou les zoonoses.

– Parler français et Malgache couramment
Comprendre l’anglais écrit
– Être en bonne condition physique

Les étudiants intéressés sont priés d’envoyer leur CV et une lettre de motivation à :
Dr Fidisoa Rasambainarivo
Madagascar Fauna & Flora Group
University of Missouri Saint-Louis


Pour plus d informations veuillez contacter Dr Fidisoa Rasambainarivo


Date limite d’application 15 avril 2015

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First quarter updates – twenty fifteen

March 2015 is approaching to an end and I realized that it has been quite a while since I wrote an entry on this blog. Since my last post, I managed to keep myself busy, especially by the various academic duties of a PhD student/candidate at the University of Missouri Saint Louis (UMSL).

It all started with the completion of the qualifying exams (aka quals or the comprehensive exams) that all phD student have to take during their second year. Most PhD candidates would argue that the quals are the most uncertain, stressful and time-consuming aspects of their graduate studies and I concur. The format of the exam is quite variable between universities and even between programs of the same university but they are all meant to test one’s knowledge in the chosen field and determine whether he/she qualifies to continue at a higher degree with his/her research. At UMSL, the exam consists of a series of five written essays on different subjects such as conservation biology, community ecology, systematics, evolution, animal behaviour and population biology followed by an oral examination. My friend Camilo and I had to tackle the Janzen Connell Hypothesis, Allee effects, polyploidy etc… Coral diseases have no more secrets to me (at least at the current state of knowledge), I can tell you about negative density dependance, ecological speciation and why certain group living species may be doomed when they reach certain population size. But thanks to the quals, I also know a lot more about time management and how I can work more efficiently. In summary, the questions (of #qualshell) were interesting, challenging and pushed us to our limits (often) but we managed and I am glad that this is all over now. The quals also mark the end of the coursework, which are “time-hungry”; all I have left to complete my degree is my research project and it all starts with a sound research plan that fulfills the originality and applicability requirements of a PhD in biology with a focus on conservation biology and disease ecology.

Since the quals, most of my time was devoted to developing a research proposal and submitting grant proposals to fund the project I have in mind. I aim to evaluate the potential for and understand the dynamics of disease transmission between introduced and endemic animals in Betampona natural reserve ecosystem using microbial genetics as well as some advanced spatial and epidemiological analysis. What kind of diseases may wild and domestic animals transmit to each other (and to humans) in this ecosystem? Are animals more likely to share pathogens because they share the same habitat, or are social encounters more important? Are there individuals or species that occupy central position in the transmission network of microbes and can act as “super-spreaders”? Should/could we target specific individuals to limit the spread of certain diseases in that ecosystem? These are some of the questions that I aim to answer through this project with the help of my field team and guidance from the dissertation committee.

This past week, I gathered my dissertation committee for the first time, defended my research proposal and received some constructive feedback that will hopefully improve the overall research plan. My committee is composed by experts from various background and loads of expertise in disease ecology, community ecology, conservation biology, wildlife medicine and include Drs Patricia Parker (my advisor), Robert Marquis, Robert Ricklefs from UMSL, Dr Matthew Gompper from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Dr Eric Miller from the Saint Louis Zoo and Ingrid Porton from the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG). Fortunately things seem to be on the right track, I can now get into the more logistical part of the project preparation and hit the ground full speed when I get to Madagascar this summer.

Stay tuned!

Madagascar Conservation Medicine at the 2014 AAZV annual Conference

The 2014 Annual conference of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians just ended. This year, more than 1200 Zoo, Exotic animals and Reptile Veterinarians met for a week (October18-25th) at the Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The conference covered various subjects including (but not limited to) advanced topics in anesthesia and sedation, Aquatic medicine, reproduction and contraception as well as an interesting panel discussion on Quarantine and Risk assessment, as well as Euthanasia of Zoo animals. All in all, a week full of exciting encounters, interesting meetings and discussion with colleagues from all over the world but also the chance to meet and greet Disney characters.

Zoo and Wildlife veterinarians working in Madagascar were well represented and a record of three oral presentations focused on health and diseases of captive and free ranging wildlife in the 8th continent. Dr Amy Alexander from the Saint Louis Zoo presented her project on parasites in lemurs and domestic animals in Ivoloina and Betampona in Madagascar. Followed by Dr Graham Crawford’s project on the vaccination of village chicken in the Makira region, north eastern Madagascar to combat bushmeat hunting while improving community livelihood around protected areas. Both of these talks were presented during the “One Health Session” on Monday 20th October. This sessions was co-chaired by Dr Sharon Deem, Director of the Institute for Conservation Medicine at the Saint Louis Zoo. Dr Deem is also working in Madagascar through a project in Madagascar and you can read about her most recent trip on the sisterblog.

I also gave a presentation on “Giardia and Cryptosporidium in the Ranomafana Ecosystem” during the “Epidemiology of diseases in Zoo and Wild animals” session on Thursday. This project was based on my master’s project at the Université de Montréal and documented the transmission of an anthroponotic protozoan parasite in a species of critically endangered lemurs.

Finally, the conference gave us the opportunity to discuss future potential projects for wildlife health and conservation in Madagascar. Dr Randy Junge, a pioneer in conservation medicine in Madagascar, and myself had the opportunity to visit the impressive setup of the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Myakka City, FL. and discuss cases.

In conclusion, a very productive and interesting week around zoo veterinarians, friends and Disney characters in Florida, already looking forward to the next zoo veterinarian conference in Portland OR next year.
Until then, we are pleased to invite you to the Whitney Harris Conservation Forum at the Saint Louis Zoo on November 5th. This one day event will focus on Biodiversity and Development in Madagascar featuring a long time collaborator on lemur health research and conservation, Dr Mitch Irwin. See you then.

Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group Conservation Research Workshop

Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group, a Non Governmental Organization working to conserve Madagascar’s unique biodiversity is organizing a Conservation Research Workshop this week in Saint Louis, MO. More than 40 researchers from Universities and zoos from all over the world are expected to attend. Representatives from the Madagascar National Park and the Betampona Natural Reserve are flying in Saint Louis today especially for this event.

The goals of this meeting are to discuss, evaluate and prioritize the research program of Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group in Madagascar. Additionally, MFG hopes to foster collaborative and multidisciplinary research programs for the conservation of Madagascar’s unique Biodiversity.

Careers in Biology – Zoo based conservation

The Naked Darwin

How can I work at a zoo? What do employees at a zoo do behind the scenes? Dr. Eric Miller, from the Saint Louis Zoo, provides students with an insider’s view on the day-to-day responsibilities of directing a zoo, tips on getting hired in the zoo/conservation field, and so much more!

Zoo wordle

In this column of The Naked Darwin, you will find interviews with outstanding professionals that have devoted their careers to different fields of Biology. Here, they share their expertise in their career, and we hope our readers can gain from the knowledge and advice they will share. The interviews are performed by students from the University of Missouri-St Louis, who are taking the seminar “Careers in Biology” offered by Dr. Parker.

This week in Careers in Biology – a series of interviews: Dr. Eric Miller on Zoo based conservation. Dr. Miller’s interview was conducted by…

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Talk at Northern Illinois University

Invited by friends and colleagues Drs Mitch Irwin and Karen Samonds, I will be giving a talk entitled “Conservation medicine in Madagascar: Zoonotic Diseases at the human and wildlife interface”, on Friday the 25th of April at Northern Illinois University.
Through a few examples of research projects, we will discuss the application of the “one health” concept in Madagascar.

Drs Irwin and Samonds are both professors at NIU, have worked for several years in Madagascar and are founding members of Sadabe. Check out their amazing work on www.sadabe.org


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