Giant Otter ConservationOtters remind me, in some ways, of dogs. In other ways, they're cat-like. There's something very endearing about these athletic, powerful and playful animals. They can be tamed, but only to a point. Ultimately, water is their home. The more I've worked with otters, the more my interest has grown, not only in these amazing animals, but also in their environment and in their interactions with people.
Karanambu is in the middle of an extraordinary natural area. It is the home of Diane McTurk, a world-renowned expert on giant otters who, along with her family, founded a private charity in 1997, the Karanambu Trust. The Trust's mission is to ensure the sustainable use of the Karanambu wetlands and savanna through wildlife and habitat conservation, research and education in partnership with local communities. I serve on the board of Trustees, and as Secretary. Karanambu is also the home of the award-winning Karanambu Lodge.
One Health Conservation
I use the term "one-health conservation" to refer to a particular approach to saving species, one based on understanding the connections between human, animal and environmental health, and taking informed action. This approach is also known as conservation medicine.
One-health conservation is based on a fundamental principle of ecology: All living things are connected. In other words, the health of every living thing is connected. The bad news is that one problem leads to another, in a process analogous to a chain reaction, as in the case of environmental pollution in which all species suffer. But the reaction can go the other way—and this is the good news. If problems are connected, then so are the solutions. The conservation program for the mountain gorillas, for example, generates income that benefits the local economy, which raises the human population out of poverty. The people living near the gorillas now have an incentive to save this endangered species. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project is an example of one of the first successful one-health conservation programs. We hope replicate this success at Karanambu Trust and Ecolodge, located in Guyana, South America.
One Health is the more general term, used for programs designed to improve and promote both human and animal health through collaboration among veterinarians, physicians, and other scientists. One-health conservation is especially important now as the connections between living things are changing rapidly and faster than we understand. The forces driving such change include the globalization of trade, shrinking habitats, expanding pollution and the warming planet. The spread of Dengue fever, an infectious mosquito borne disease, is just one example of the health problems that result from these changes.
The way I see it, veterinarians like myself who are trained in zoological medicine are perfectly positioned to participate in one-health conservation programs. For one thing, we understand the health needs of a wide variety of species. We also understand, perhaps better than anyone, what happens when we confine animals in a setting that fails to meet all of their basic needs.