New Collaboration with Zoo and Wilds to Spur Research Through New Residency

Barb WolfeThrough a new residency program created in partnership with the Wilds and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, students at Ohio State will explore the intersections of animal health, environmental health and human health – a concept termed “One Health.” The College of Veterinary Medicine has established a joint residency program in Ecosystem Health and Conservation Medicine led by Barbara Wolfe, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACZM, associate professor of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

Dr. Wolfe, formerly director of conservation medicine for the Wilds who joined the Ohio State full-time faculty this summer, is one of only about 120 veterinarians internationally to be accredited by the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM). She also holds a joint appointment with the School of Environment & Natural Resources and serves as chief science officer for the Columbus Zoo and the Wilds. She continues to teach two elective courses in zoological medicine each year.

The collaboration with the zoo and the Wilds will open new doors to students. “It opens up the possibility of using the Wilds as a living laboratory for research through OSU,” Wolfe explained. “It’s going to expand the opportunity for graduate programs in conservation medicine.”

The new three-year residency program, which begins in fall of 2014 and requires completion of a DVM degree, will lead to a Master’s degree as well as eligibility to take the ACZM board exam.  A year of extensive coursework will be followed by a year each at the Columbus Zoo and the Wilds, for hands-on work in zoological medicine and pursuit of a Master’s degree research project. One veterinary resident will be admitted to the program each year.

Offering one of only 22 ACZM-accredited sites internationally for training in zoological medicine, the Wilds is home to 31 rare and endangered species of wild animals residing on nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed surface-mined land in southeastern Ohio. It supports conservation through innovative education, breeding and research programs. The Wilds recently became affiliated with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, one of the top-ranked zoos in the country.

“Students just love the Wilds,” Wolfe said. “It’s a terrifically magical team of dedicated employees, fascinating animals and the opportunity to work in a beautiful natural setting. With Ohio State on board, it’s going to explode,” she said. Some veterinary and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will have the opportunity to conduct research at the Wilds, as will students in the Master of Public Health/ Veterinary Public Health program. The new partnership also should open the door for Ohio State to obtain grants to conduct environmental and animal health research, both at the Wilds and around the country, further expanding capacity for student research involvement.

“As a former coal mine, the Wilds is a great place to study the effects of environmental disruptions on animal health and disease ecology,” Wolfe said. Current disease ecology studies are examining bobcat toxoplasmosis, which can be transmitted to other animals and humans; coyote neosporosis, a related infection in canines; and the disease transmission between white tailed deer and cattle. Assisted reproduction efforts at the Wilds have spawned the world’s only fourth-generation white rhinos ever born in captivity and the first foals born through artificial insemination to a non-domesticated member of the horse family (a wild donkey known as the Persian onager.) A wide range of other studies are also underway.

“In order to study wildlife, it’s important to know how to study them,” Wolfe said. “Zoological medicine is a piece of that – understanding the diversity of species and their individual challenges.” Conservation medicine is even broader. 

“Seventy-five percent of emerging diseases in humans are coming from animals,” Wolfe noted.  “Most of those new diseases are coming from wildlife.” The diseases, which have long existed among animals, are emerging in humans, “because human encroachment on wildlife habitat is creating more intersection between humans and wildlife,” she said. “There are growing needs for conservation medicine practitioners,” Wolfe noted. Through its new collaboration and residency program, Ohio State is working to help fill that need.