The impact of a collaborative conservation effort

This summer, I had the opportunity to be the Seneca Park Zoo’s 2017 Aab pre-veterinary fellow, and it has been an absolute blast. Over the past five weeks, I have taken a baboon’s heart rate, researched copper toxicity in snails, learned how to carry a penguin, and made friends with a couple of orangutans. I’ve fallen in love with so many of the animals here, and I’ve discovered new ways to think about veterinary medicine from the perspectives of population management and stress reduction.

However, one of my favorite experiences with this program did not happen at the Zoo. It occurred out on the beautiful Genesee River. I was given the opportunity to accompany our Zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Jeffrey Wyatt, and a USGS scientist, Dr. Dawn Dittman, on a lake sturgeon population survey. Dr. Dittman has released over 5,000 lake sturgeon into the river since 2003, and they are becoming more and more common each year.

We started the day by releasing two display sturgeon from the Zoo. These sturgeon were two years old and were close to outgrowing their habitat at the zoo. After they were introduced to their new home in the Genesee, we began pulling up nets. When we found sturgeon, we measured their length, girth, and weight. We also tagged any untagged sturgeon so that we could identify them later. Then, we put these sturgeon back into the river, hoping to see them again in future years.

The most rewarding part of the day was when we pulled up a sturgeon that was over three feet long. I had never held a fish that big in my life! Dr. Dittman told us that this sturgeon was very likely released with the first ever year class in 2003, and must have already visited Lake Ontario. I could only imagine another student pulling up a three-foot-long one of today’s released fish in a decade. To me, this was concrete evidence that Dr. Dittman’s efforts were producing real results.

This was one amazing day among many. However, it sticks in my mind because I could really see the impact of a collaborative conservation effort. Dr. Dittman has worked to repopulate the Genesee with sturgeon, the tenure of sturgeon at the Zoo may inspire people to change their behavior and help keep the river clean. This is just one great example of how zoos and scientists can work together to make a real difference for animals.

-Allison Bichoupan