The call of the wild

There’s something enthralling in the eyes of a raptor, a primal intensity that instills respect and makes it hard to look away. Such a spell sparked a similar spirit in Sarah Cudney ’16 when she first encountered raptors at Cornell as a high-school summer student, an experience that imbued her with a keen vigor for veterinary medicine.

Eurasian Eagle Owl, BuboThe wild was never far for Cudney, who grew up in Boulder, Col. in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, but it suddenly came closer when she started handling raptors in Cornell’s three-week pre-veterinary high-school summer program in Exotic Avian Husbandry.
“I had such an amazing experience working with the birds that I was determined to come back to Cornell,” said Cudney. “That summer course made me decide to apply here.”

As a newly minted Cornell undergraduate studying animal science and biology, one of the first things Cudney did was return to the raptors. She joined the Cornell Raptor Program, getting directly involved with raptor conservation through formal classroom instruction on biology and natural history of birds of prey, captive propagation and release of selected species, rehabilitation of sick and injured raptors, and public education programs.

Rising through the volunteer ranks, Cudney became both Director of Education and Student Supervisor, organizing and presenting outreach events in Ithaca and the surrounding area and training new student volunteers. She even adopted the daily responsibility of hand-feeding and caring for an American Kestrel and a Eurasian Eagle Owl, one of the world’s largest owls. Hooked on wildlife, she also volunteered as a wildlife supervisor at the Swanson Wildlife Health Center, assisting veterinarians in examination, radiology, medication, treatment, and care of local sick and injured wildlife.

“Working with wildlife made me realize I wanted to go into wildlife medicine,” said Cudney. “I don’t know if I’d have even applied to vet school if not for the Raptor Program and the Wildlife Health Center.”

She became president of Cornell’s Pre-Veterinary Society, arranging speakers, meetings, fundraisers, field trips, and volunteer work for the group, as well as mentoring undergraduate peers throughout their own veterinary school preparation. Cudney also came up campus to the College frequently to conduct research in Dr. Ned Place’s endocrinology lab. This led to two manuscripts, including her honors thesis describing a model of how seasons cause shifts in metabolic signals to the brain that can influence obesity, which has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

Cudney graduated with highest honors, a slew of awards, research publications, a strong network of supporters built through her activities, and varied hands-on animal experience: all the right ingredients for a strong veterinary school application.

“I chose Cornell for the next step too, partly because of the people and places I’d established good relationships with,” said Cudney. “But a big part of it was the opportunities Cornell gives to work with wildlife and conservation. It’s one of the few schools with a wildlife center on campus. I love working with all kinds of animals but for me there’s something special about wildlife.”

Coming full circle, Cudney served this year as a teaching assistant for the high-school Summer course in exotic avian husbandry that first brought her here. She begins veterinary school this fall and hopes to pursue wildlife and conservation medicine.


Editor’s Note: Cornell’s veterinary Class of 2016 is 102 students strong. Equally as diverse in backgrounds and interests as those who came before them, they are also among the brightest, with this year’s Class boasting a median GPA of 3.75 and the highest median GRE score to date.




Conservation in action

First Indonesian to receive major fellowship will help save world’s rarest rhinoceroses

Deep in the Indonesian rainforest on the island of Java roam the last of earth’s most critically endangered large mammal species: the Javan rhinoceros. Once Asia’s most widespread rhinoceroses, these secretive forest-dwellers disappeared altogether from the continent’s mainland in October 2011, when the last individual was found dead in Vietnam with its horn chopped off by poachers. A single population of just 40 rhinoceroses survives in the western half of Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park, cramped into a corner of the island that has reached its carrying capacity.

The Indonesian government recently endorsed a daring plan to expand the range of their emblem species by establishing a second population with more room to grow. Yet a major concern remains. The plan involves moving some rhinoceroses from the isolated westernmost tip of Java to the eastern side of the park—an area surrounded by 19 agricultural villages whose inhabitants rely on water buffalo to work their rice paddies. No fences limit the wanderings of these loosely managed buffalo, which regularly pass into the park and could spread diseases that would quickly decimate the rhino’s population.

Cornell postdoc Dr. Kurnia Khairani has received a Fellowship Training Grant from the Morris Animal Foundation to address this problem. With the help of faculty and students at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Khairani is combining fieldwork in Indonesia with labwork and training at Cornell to improve the health and outlook of Javan rhinoceroses. It is the first time an Indonesian has received this prestigious award, and the first time a Cornell fellow will be trained in conservation medicine.

“Of the five rhinoceros species the Javan is the rarest, and Khairani’s work is critical to its future,” said Dr. Robin Radcliffe, director of the Cornell Conservation Medicine Program, one of the world’s foremost experts working in rhino conservation. Radcliffe oversees the project and is excited by its possibilities. “Khairani herself is a major investment for conservation efforts in this region: she will take her Cornell training back to Indonesia and become a decision-maker in her own country. Cornell is involved in real-world conservation, training people who will use what they learn here to tackle new problems in the race to preserve biodiversity.”

A postdoc in the laboratory of immunologist Dr. Julia Fellipe, Khairani will work under the joint mentorship of Fellipe and Radcliffe. Additional mentorship from epidemiologist Dr. Daryl Nydam and microbiologist Dr. Pat McDonough will round out Khairani’s skills.

Conducting a preliminary health survey of village buffalo, Khairani found several diseases of concern to rhinoceroses, including blood parasites, salmonellosis, and leptospirosis. With highly infectious diseases such as SARS, West Nile Virus, and Avian Influenza making worldwide headlines for crossing species barriers and ecosystems, it is critical to get this historic move of the rarest rhinoceros right the first time. Khairani’s ongoing survey will focus on hemorrhagic septicemia, a bacterial disease linked to four recorded die-offs of Javan rhinoceroses in the region. Khairani will determine the prevalence, distribution, and risk of contracting septicemia faced by the buffalo population; conduct questionnaire-based interviews with buffalo owners to determine management factors that might contribute to the regional epidemiology of the disease; and propose possible interventions.

The project also involves outreach, educating local public health officers and villagers on septicemia diagnosis and management through hands-on training. It has also opened doors for Cornell veterinary students to gain valuable hands-on international experience, and several have already conducted internships in Indonesia with Khairani through Cornell’s Conservation Medicine Program with funding by Expanding Horizons.

“Knowledge of the region’s diseases will help veterinary officers improve the health of buffalo, a resource crucial to the region’s economic vitality,” said Khairani. “Healthier buffalo will enhance the well-being of local villagers while reducing their impact on the park. Improving our understanding of animal health in the area will help reduce the risk of disease transmission from livestock to rhinoceroses. This is essential to establishing a second habitat and population of the rare Javan rhinoceros, a crown jewel of Indonesia’s amazing biodiversity.”

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

Oct. 26, 2011

By Carly Hodes

maned wolf
The maned wolf, native to southeast South America, a near-threatened species, is one of the kinds of animals that students in the new Cornell-Smithsonian joint graduate program may address as they learn to become wildlife conservation scientists.

At a time when extinction threatens nearly one-quarter of all known vertebrate species, Cornell and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) have teamed up to offer a new shared doctoral program that will train the next generation of wildlife conservation scientists.

The Cornell-Smithsonian Joint Graduate Training Program (JGTP) began accepting applications this month to train students who will leverage basic research at Cornell with conservation initiatives pioneered by one of the nation’s pre-eminent wildlife research institutes. Using the facilities, resources and expertise at both institutions, students will learn to become independent investigators equipped to study and preserve some of the rarest species on the planet.

“We are in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, and this crisis is manmade,” said Alex Travis, director of the Cornell Center for Wildlife Conservation, who helped organize the program. “Although we must continue to take every effort to preserve natural ecosystems, numbers of more and more species have dropped so low that they require focused conservation efforts. We want to train top students in a setting in which they will be able to apply basic scientific approaches and cutting-edge techniques to the preservation of biodiversity. The knowledge these collaborations generate will then help solve real conservation problems around the world.”

Students in the five-year program benefit from the dual mentorship of a Cornell faculty member and an SCBI staff scientist. Collaborative research projects will utilize resources in Ithaca and SCBI campuses (in Front Royal, Va., and Washington, D.C.), allowing students the opportunity to work with advanced biomedical facilities at Cornell and endangered species populations such as cheetahs, clouded leopards, cranes and oryx at SCBI.

Jen Nagashima
Jennifer Nagashima, the first student admitted in the Cornell-Smithsonian Joint Graduate Training Program during last year's pilot phase, studies canine reproduction.

Jennifer Nagashima, the first JGTP student admitted during last year’s pilot phase, for example, works on canine reproduction. She studies aspects of female reproduction at SCBI, where she works on in-vitro egg maturation and fertility synchronization. In the Travis lab, she is learning new technologies to preserve genetic resources of male animals using spermatogonial stem cells. She’s also synthesizing both lines of training in studies on assisted reproduction techniques such as in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. She has rounded out her studies by delving into how hormones control the canine reproductive cycle with Ned Place, a reproductive endocrinologist at Cornell.

“These topics are highly complementary, and Jennifer’s study benefits tremendously from her work in these three labs,” said Travis. “Bringing these skills together could help manage captive populations of endangered canids such as the African wild hog and South America’s maned wolf. Interestingly, these same approaches could help dog breeders filter diseases out of domestic populations while also helping humans. There are over 400 human diseases having similarity to diseases in dogs. Identifying genetic causes of disease can then benefit everyone.”

Carly Hodes is a writer at the College of Veterinary Medicine.


Original press release:

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine news


Media hits:

Cornell Chronicle

US Ag Net

News from Planet Earth

High Beam Research

Media Newswire

Young bald eagle returns to the sky

Eagle returns to the sky after successful treatment at the Swanson Wildlife Health Clinic

eagleA young female bald eagle found bleeding on the side of the road near Corning, NY, returned to the wild on Friday, October 7, three weeks after treatment at Cornell University’s Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Clinic. The bird was likely down for some time before a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officer found her and took her to the clinic, according to the clinic’s Director, Dr. George Kollias.

“She is an immature bird born this year, and they can be kind of clumsy,” said Kollias. “She was found underweight and in poor body condition. Sick or injured eagles will often scavenge road-kill, putting themselves at greater risk for parasite infection and trauma from traffic. I’ve seen several of these cases; if she did get hit by a car, she was relatively lucky.”

Dr. Emi Knafo, zoo and wildlife resident at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine who first handled the case, described the young bird’s resilience after trauma.

“She came in dazed and bleeding from her mouth and ear,” said Knafo. “We ran a series of tests to evaluate her condition. Radiographs and blood work looked normal, though she had a lot of intestinal parasites. She was big, strong, and relatively healthy, and she quickly regained alertness and started eating on her own in the first couple days.”

Five days after her arrival, the Cornell clinicians transferred the increasingly restless eagle to local wildlife rehabilitator Cynthia Page, owner of Page Wildlife Center in Manlius, NY.

“They grow very active when they’re confined,” said Kollias. “We someday hope to add a flight cage to our facilities so we can continue to treat birds while giving them enough room to move and practice flying. For now we try to get them out to rehab as soon as possible. Our resident Dr. Brendon Noonan cared for the bird until she was ready for rehab.”

Page mixed deworming medicine with the bird’s food and monitored her recovery in the facility’s 12ft x 36ft flight cage, where the eagle spent the last two and a half weeks rebuilding her abilities to take off, land, maneuver, and hunt.

Left to right: Michael Allen, Dr. George Kollias (sunglasses), DEC bird-bander, Cynthia Page (dark blue holding camera), two onlookers, Dr. Emi Knafo (brown, sunglasses), Post-Standard photographer

On the date of release a small team of wildlife workers from Cornell and the DEC converged outside the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. Page carefully helped the bird out of her car, aided by the expert hands of retired DEC wildlife technician Michael Allen. While the eagle wore a leather hood to keep her calm and prevent her from biting, a DEC official banded her legs so that she could be identified in the future.

Followed by a group of captivated onlookers, they brought the bird to a grassy field bordering woods and marshlands full of grazing waterfowl. Page lowered the eagle to the ground to give her a chance to orient herself. Knafo removed the hood, and Page released her grip and stepped back.

birddThe eagle’s eyes dilated as she surged forward. Stumbling at first but with increasing drive she ran in a semicircle, stretched her wings, and began to rise.

Several powerful flaps later, her 8-foot wingspan shadowed the marsh, and the eagle returned to the sky. A chorus of honking alarms heralded her release as startled waterfowl scattered at the sight of the soaring predator. The eagle circled to land on a sturdy tree branch, where she ruffled her brown feathers and began to preen.

“It’s a remarkable feeling to watch a release and to know you helped make it possible,” said Kollias. “This year we’ve had more bald eagles at the clinic than ever before, about eight since last September. Maybe more people know what we do at the Clinic and bring in cases; maybe it’s because the population is rising.”

Once at the brink of extinction, the recovery of America’s iconic bird represents one of wildlife conservation’s greatest success stories. In 1975, officials found only two bald eagles in the entire state after hunting, pesticides, and deforestation devastated the population. Last Friday the young eagle treated at Cornell joined a growing population of 570+ estimated individuals across New York.

For more pictures, check out our Facebook Album of the release.

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Newly promoted Senior Lecturer continues contributions to wildlife

PenguinAfter thirteen years of service at Cornell University, wildlife specialist Dr. Noha Abou-Madi has been promoted to Senior Lecturer. As a member of Section of Zoological Medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences, she has seen the wildlife specialty within the College grow over the years. Services offered by this section have expanded since its inception, and now include teaching, research, clinical service, and consultations involving all aspects of conservation medicine.

Abou-Madi earned her DVM in 1984 and her MSc in Veterinary Clinical Sciences in 1986 from the University of Montreal, and completed residencies in Veterinary Anesthesiology and Zoological and Wildlife Medicine at the University of Florida from 1986-1991. She joined Cornell in 1997 after working at the Busch Gardens Inc. in Tampa, Florida for five years and became a Diplomate of the American College of Zoological Medicine in 2004.

Along with her colleagues, Abou-Madi is teaching one of the most extensive curricula in zoological medicine in North America, offering courses ranging from Conservation Medicine to Amphibian and Reptile Medicine and Surgery. She shares clinical duties at the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center and at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo with Dr. George V. Kollias, Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife. These ties provide unique opportunities to teach the practice of conservation medicine for free-ranging and captive animals.

At the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, graduate and undergraduate students, residents, and interns provide state-of-the-art veterinary care to injured native wild animals, under the direction of the clinicians. Students and residents benefit from the rare opportunity to participate in the care of endangered and threatened animals housed at the zoo, including programs for red pandas, Asian elephants, snow leopards, and Humboldt penguins.

Ties to the zoo have fostered Abou-Madi’s own continued work in conservation medicine. After the loss of one of the zoo’s baby elephant to the Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, one of the leading causes of juvenile mortality in Asian elephants, Abou-Madi began an intensive research effort studying the disease that may one day lead to a greater understanding of the virus and the possible development of a vaccine.

“Conservation medicine is an essential aspect of veterinary medicine”, says Abou-Madi. “We are developing several new programs to help train the growing number of students interested in this field. Our team is involved in programs in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, focused on teaching students and children about the conservation of animals and the importance of sustainable ecosystems.”

From teaching and clinical work to specialized zoological training and outreach, Abou-Madi will continue expanding the College’s contributions to wildlife and conservation in her new role as Senior Lecturer.