Mark Hendricks, Contributor Ω
What did you do in class today? Did you neuter a coyote? Maybe you spayed a cougar or a wolf? If you’re a student in the Animal Health Technology (AHT) program at TRU and you’re going to the B.C. Wildlife Park today, you may be doing just that.
For 28 years, the AHT program has been taking students to the park to introduce them to wildlife medicine, a specialized branch of animal care.
Wildlife medicine involves dealing with animals that are not domesticated and students wishing to pursue this must learn how to properly handle wild animals without conditioning them to the presence of humans.
“I mention that we’re going to the wildlife park and they’re grinning ear to ear,” said Erica Gray, an instructor in the AHT program. “They’re so excited.”
Gray is the instructor responsible for taking students to the B.C. Wildlife Park on the outskirts of Kamloops. Once there, students work closely alongside Tara Geiger and other staff at the park. Geiger is the animal care supervisor and the animal health technician for the park. She is also responsible for facilitating student involvement and helps to teach the students while they’re at the park.
Both first- and second-year students in the AHT program are involved with the park. The first-year students run tests on samples sent from the park, checking for parasites and other potential dangers. Students in their second year spend six days at the park assisting Geiger with hands-on practice.
Students at the park help with routine procedures and exams, such as administering vaccines, hoof trimming mountain goats and de-worming a variety of animals. Students also assist with non-routine procedures, such as neutering bears or racoons or catching and administering oral medication to birds of prey.
The field work gives students an opportunity to utilize their skills in a different way.
“[It] teaches them something cool that they may not see regularly” Geiger said.
For those interested in pursuing wildlife medicine, the park also offers summer student positions. In the last two years, six students from the AHT program have been accepted and given four months of wildlife medicine experience.
The partnership does not solely benefit the students. The park gets the benefit of having skilled assistants that know how to hold and care for the animals with timely procedures.
“We can get two weeks or three weeks worth of work done in three days” Geiger said.
The park also gains access to the technical side of the AHT program. Samples with parasites staff at the park can’t identify are sent to the AHT program to be analyzed. This has the added benefit of showing students how to run these tests.
Both Gray and Geiger would like to see the partnership between the AHT and the B.C. Wildlife Park expand by adding a wildlife medicine speciality to the existing AHT program. However the program is already quite dense; students in the first semester of the two-year program write 14 final exams.
For now students will have to be satisfied with their domestic patients and only a brief trip to the wild side.