Mon, 2019/03/04 - 10:34am
A passion for wildlife and love of the outdoors has always been a part of Iga Stasiak’s life.
Her studies and experiences have taken this 2007 graduate from the Ontario Veterinary College’s (OVC) Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program to the United States and Mexico, back to OVC for a DVSc and to Canada’s North before she landed in her current job with the Saskatchewan government. With each step, she expanded her skill set and further embraced her passion for wildlife conservation.
She sees many opportunities for DVM graduates in this important One Health area. “The threats facing our wildlife populations are intensifying as we see expanding development, globalization and climate change. We need more veterinarians and professionals in this field to try to mitigate some of those impacts and conserve our wildlife.”
For Stasiak it wasn’t until she was immersed in OVC’s DVM program that she was exposed to the many pathways related to wildlife health available within the field of veterinary medicine.
Post-graduation she continued to network with wildlife health professionals while supplementing her degree with stints in emergency and locum work and externships in wildlife and equine medicine.
A two-week program in marine animal medicine included lessons on sea turtle necropsies, experience that proved invaluable when she met wildlife conservationist Alonso Aguirre at a Wildlife Disease Association Conference. Aguirre was trying to figure out the cause of mortality in the Pacific Loggerhead sea turtle population along the Pacific coast of Baja California in Mexico.
He needed a research assistant for a month to do sea turtle necropsies. Says Stasiak, “I was in the right place at the right time and jumped at the chance.”
The game-changing opportunity helped her gain an understanding of issues facing communities in more underdeveloped areas. Stasiak worked with the local community to help them understand potential impacts of fishing activities on the sea turtles and to form grass root solutions to assist in their conservation.
It also provided valuable experience when she applied to the DVSc Zoological Medicine and Pathology joint program with The Toronto Zoo and OVC in 2009. Falling in love with the powerful aspects of pathology and the investigation of disease in populations, Stasiak recalls, “For me it always came back to conservation and population management and what can we do to preserve our native wildlife.”
Stasiak’s interest in wildlife conservation has led her to Canada’s North, working closely with the Indigenous community and hunters to focus on the health of caribou populations in the Northwest Territories. She travelled to Kentucky to manage emergent disease issues such as the potential spread of raccoon strain rabies into the state and a viral hemorrhagic disease in deer, spread by biting flies or midges.
Throughout, Stasiak has learned the value strong relationships bring to her work. In Canada’s North “not only were we protecting the health of the caribou, our findings were helping to protect the health of the Indigenous culture and the people’s way of life.”
Now in Saskatchewan since May 2018, Stasiak is once again contributing to wildlife health in Canada. Her current focus: chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease affecting the deer family, introduced to the province almost 20 years ago.
While the disease has not yet appeared in boreal forest caribou, there are concerns it may spread to this population. “There are a lot of priorities across the province and varied stakeholders, with farm land to the south, intact wilderness to the north and a very strong Indigenous population,” she notes. Once again, she is working with a variety of interested parties, to educate them about the disease and develop management actions to limit the spread.
“As I have progressed in my career I’ve engaged more and more on the human side, trying to create relationships, bridge the divide and sometimes work in very conflicting areas. Ultimately it’s for the same goal - to ensure we have healthy wildlife and sustainable populations for many generations.”
Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2019 Crest Magazine.