I have just got back from one of my nerdy ventures where myself and a number of the LUVZS committee attended this year’s BVZS Autumn meeting held at Oxford University’s Pembroke College. BVZS (The British Veterinary Zoological Society for those of you who are not familiar with this organisation) is a rapidly growing society supporting the interest of vets, nurses and students who have a passion for wildlife, exotics and zoo medicine. It is made up of a number of fabulously eccentric people with more knowledge than should be able to fit into anyone’s heads and all are incredibly friendly and eager to share their experiences with a gaggle of undergrads nervously dipping their toes into the waters of the exotic veterinary world.
We managed to bully Jack into driving the five of us down in his car which had the most wiggle room for those of us squashed in the back, and got to Oxford late on Friday night after an afternoon of Public health Practicals. It’s safe to say we were all a little bit excited to be staying in one of Oxford University’s halls of residence, Pembroke college and felt like we had the opportunity to have a sneaky look at ‘how the other half lived’… All I can say is, my halls of residence did not have heated towel rails and power showers! The next morning, we had a lovely buffet-style breakfast with all the trimmings in the medieval/ Hogwarts style dining hall before heading off to register for the conference.
The zoo world is an incredibly close knit bunch which is both lovely and also a little daunting. In the first half an hour I had bumped into several of the vet’s I’d seen practice with (thankfully all of them looked pleased to see me!) alongside a number of familiar faces who are clearly regulars at these kinds of events. After helping Ashley wrestle the poster she was presenting into submission (She had done a fabulous piece of work collating data on the clinical signs of elephant Herpes virus in captive collections) we went to take our seats for the first stream.
The morning’s first group of lectures was on reptiles which to my surprise I really enjoyed as I have always considered myself for of a mammal kind of girl. The first talk was by Richard Griffiths, Professor of biological conservation at Durrell institute of conservation and ecology. He discussed the challenges facing international trade in reptiles and very astutely explained the arguments on welfare, conservation and care from both sides of the coin- tackling both the legal, captive bred trade and the illegal wildlife trade which is still a significant problem across the globe. Richard also described how the trade in reptiles and amphibians has changed so significantly just over his life time with regards to the increase in colour morph varieties, the variety of species kept and emerging diseases seen in the trade – most notably Chytridiomycosis – a fungal disease which attacks the skin and affects osmoregulation.
Richard’s talk was followed by several other interesting presentations; one reviewing cases of neoplasia in lizards determining which species seemed to have the highest incidences of tumours (apparently leopard geckos do remarkably well at avoiding tumours), another discussion on vitamin D levels in captive crocodilians and iguanas with some interesting theories on why they became hyper or hypocalcaemic and finally a review of the healthcare tactics used in Port Lympne’s reptile collection. This one was of particular interest as I am due to visit their veterinary department this coming year for an EMS placement after hearing glowing reviews from Ashley so it was interesting to hear more about them this weekend.
The next stream was on wildlife which I was definitely quite excited about. Becki Lawson from the Institute of Zoology at ZSL kicked off the session with a talk on an emerging, skin affecting, fungal disease, ophidiomyces ophidiicola found both in wild and captive snake populations. There was a talk from Anna Meredith, coordinator of the conservation medicine Master’s program at Edinburgh (which I am very interested in learning more about for when I graduate!). She gave us an update on her work monitoring leprosy in the red squirrel population, interestingly this talk taught me, in some red squirrel populations it is in fact the same causative strain isolated in human leprosy cases. Next we heard from much loved speaker Vic Simpson who by the sounds of it had helped many of the vets in the room come about some of their exotic veterinary knowledge during their years as students. He discussed the importance of three things in Cornwall; Cornish Pasties, Poldark and more to the point … sea birds! Vic talked about the difference in pathologies and gross post mortem findings when a bird has drowned compared to one which had died due to other causes. I now feel much more prepared to tackle a seabird necropsy after listening to his presentation! The talk which captured my attention the most in this stream though was presented by recent Bristol graduate, Claire Petros who did the most amazing elective in North Carolina at a student turtle hospital. She spoke fondly of her experiences there and showed us many enviable photos and as I am now at that point in my degree where I can start considering electives, it really inspired me to think out of the box and aim to do something really different.
After lunch the streams split into two to give delegates a choice of talks depending on their interest. As budding zoo vets, we all chose the zoo mammal stream which began with a talk on one of my favourite animals, the Okapi (it’s just something about those snuffly noses!). Michelle Barrows, vet at Bristol zoo took us through a case she had seen involving periparturient and neonatal problems involving one of their individuals at the zoo. What struck me was how much zoo medicine is evolving from just a few years ago where nearly every zoo animal needing veterinary care had to be darted and anaesthetised, now the focus is much more on working with the animals and training them to accept veterinary intervention when conscious. In the Okapi’s case they were able to intervene when she had difficulty during labour without anaesthetising which gives a much safer outcome for both mother and calf. The next presentation was by Jen Quale, Partner at Rose Cottage Veterinary centre and vet for Knowsley safari park (yet another vet who knows me from placement!). She gave an update on the work of the UK elephant welfare and BIAZA elephant focus group and discussed how these societies aimed to improve the welfare of elephants in captivity which are notoriously hard to keep well and are a big point of public concern. Other talks in this stream included liver lobe torsion in non-human primates and the clinical signs expressed by the animals involved, use of diagnostic tools in diagnosing cardiomyopathies in Livingston fruit bats and how they could be interpreted and finally management of acute respiratory disease in a young bonobo at Twycross zoo (including some incredibly sweet pictures).
The final presentation of the day was a debate on rewilding, the concept of returning an area back to a more natural state and reintroducing animals which have long been natively extinct. The debate involved four speakers who were either in support or against rewilding. Each gave a short presentation on their own views and then the debate was opened up to the floor for people to ask questions and challenge any points made. It was a very interesting discussion and to be honest I’m still not sure where I personally stand on the topic as I completely agree it would be nice to have more forested areas with wild oxen and lynx running around once more in Britain but equally a good point was made that, these creatures died out in the UK for a reason, because our country as it is now is unable to support them so in a few years’ time, would we be back in the same position again?
The weekend wasn’t all work and no play, a slap up three course meal was served on the Saturday night (because let’s face it, all vets LOVE food!) followed by a swift jaunt over to the college bar for the much anticipated pub quiz. I can honestly say I have never seen so much shameless cheating, arguments and heckling outside of a Liverpool football game – we now see why the pub quiz has an infamous reputation and has been banned on several previous occasions. More heckling occurred when the college bar staff began changing the price of their drinks to suit them – A G&T went from £4.50-£6.50 in the space of an hour which we argued stubbornly and I’m proud to say successfully against. Then the rude sods switched all the lights off at 11pm in a not-so good willed gesture to get us all to leave to which we hit the town with good friend and vet nurse Craig donned in his bright red and black batman suit. It was then we discovered how spoiled we were back in Liverpool with bars and clubs staying open until the small hours and a wide variety of choice on where to stumble into. In Oxford last orders were at 11.30 and apart from the one private function half of us accidentally waltzed into the place was dead. Despite Oxford’s lack of night time entertainment we had a merry time wandering the streets for a while before we decided to call it a night.