AAZV & AAWV JOINT COMMITTEE ON WILDLIFE HEALTH AND CONSERVATION
This committee is pleased to feature zoo and wildlife veterinarians who are conducting cutting-edge work that illustrate the value and importance of linking in-situ and ex-situ conservation.
Dr. Roberto Aguilar is currently the Director of Conservation and Science at the Phoenix Zoo. Dr. Aguilar was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico. He is bi-lingual and bi-cultural. He graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1987. After an internship in veterinary medicine at Oklahoma State University in 1990 he was the clinical resident for orthopedic avian surgery at the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. He was the Staff Veterinarian and then Senior Veterinarian at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans from 1992 to September, 2005.
He has authored over 50 publications in refereed journals, most of them on clinical zoo medical issues. He has edited and authored a book on exotic animal medicine, currently in its second edition (Atlas de Medicina, Terapeutica y Patologia de Animales Exoticos – Editorial Inter-Medica, Buenos Aires) which has been translated into Portuguese. He has lectured extensively in most of Latin America and some countries in Europe. He is currently the manager for Latinvets, a list serve with 450 members in Latin America, Europe and the US.
Below, Dr. Aguilar describes in his own words, just two of the many conservation projects he is currently working on. If you would like your wildlife health and conservation project featured on the Web site please contact the committee co-chairs: Jonathan Sleeman (email@example.com) and Scott Larsen (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Chiricahua Leopard Frogs and Amphibians of the American Southwest
The Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) is federally listed as threatened. This species occurs at elevations of 3,281 to 8,890 feet in central and southeastern Arizona, west-central and southwestern New Mexico, and the sky islands and Sierra Madre Occidental of northeastern Sonora, and western Chihuahua, Mexico. The Arizona range of the species is split into two disjointed parts: the northern populations along the Mogollon Rim in east Arizona, and the southern populations in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and Mexico. Genetic analysis suggests the northern populations may be a distinct species, as of yet not described.
The Chiricahua leopard frog is a habitat generalist historically found in a variety of aquatic environments, but is now limited to the few remaining aquatic systems that support non-native predators and competing species (e.g. American bullfrogs). The species also requires permanent or semi-permanent pools for breeding and water with low levels of contaminants and moderate pH. Periodic die-offs have occurred where a pathogenic chytridiomycete fungus was present. Additional threats to this species include extreme weather conditions, degradation and loss of habitat, human development and other activities, disruption of metapopulation dynamics, environmental contaminants, and increased risk for extinction resulting from small population numbers.
The Phoenix Zoo has been involved in conservation efforts for Chiricahua leopard frogs since 1998. Amplification of Ramsey Canyon leopard frogs has also taken place since 1996. Many of these activities have targeted the Gentry Creek Management Area, located north of Young, Arizona. Nine historical Chiricahua leopard frog localities have been documented in the vicinity of Gentry Creek. By the mid-1990s, frogs were known from only four sites, two of which supported frogs that regularly reproduced.
At present, Arizona Game and Fish Department staff collects wild egg masses for amplification from pre-determined sites. The Phoenix Zoo reptile staff hatch and care for the tadpoles until they become releasable sub-adults. Thousands of frogs have been raised to releasable stages and re-introduced to managed habitats in the wild. Several egg masses producing tadpoles this year came from the last three known adult frogs from the Buckskin Hills, known as the “Buckskin Three”. These unique animals are currently housed permanently at the Phoenix Zoo. Fifty tadpoles are currently morphing into sub-adults; remaining adults from this sub-population may be sent to other zoos for permanent captive care. Similar amplification and re-introduction programs are being considered for lowland leopard frogs and other threatened regional amphibians.
A Chiricahua leopard frog in the final stages of metamorphosis. Once the animal has become fully morphed into a sub-adult, it will be releasable back to the wild for population amplification. (Photo courtesy of Tara Sprankle)
California Condors and Lead
The Peregrine Fund’s California condor reintroduction program in Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona has used veterinary support for lead-poisoned birds since the problem was first detected in the late 90’s. Bullet fragments in carcasses have markedly increased the number of chronically lead-poisoned birds in recent years. Condors with low to moderate lead levels are treated in the field whereas severely lead-poisoned birds with crop stasis or other complications are submitted to the Phoenix Zoo for treatment. A total of seven birds were received in 2006; some of these birds required surgery to place feeding tubes to bypass the crop and allow for nutritional support. Treatment required intensive daily management and handling of the condors. Once the bird only needed supportive care or standard chelation therapy, it was sent back to the release site for monitoring and re-release. The Arizona Zoological Society is supporting regional and national conservation efforts to discourage the use of lead shot in the state.
A male California condor is maintained under observation at the Phoenix Zoo’s Animal Care Center. Care for injured or lead intoxicated birds can be prolonged and intense. The field team treats animals with low to moderate lead levels with a chelation protocol submitted and revised by the zoo’s veterinarians.
Animals treated successfully in the field or at the zoo are re-released into the management area. At present, the Arizona condor population is the only group successfully raising chicks and increasing their numbers. Aggressive lead monitoring and treatment has allowed the recovery team to maintain genetically valuable birds in the re-introduced population. (Photo courtesy of the Peregrine Fund)”