Dr. Mark Pokras instructs students about a turtle at the Wildlife Clinic
When her new nature sanctuary opened two years ago, Shalin Liu wanted visitors to be able to see wildlife rehabilitation in real time.
So visitors to the Summer Star Wildlife Sanctuary in Boylston, Massachusetts, can sit in the visitor’s center and watch live video feeds of hawks, owls and other raptors grow strong again in the Shalin Liu Healing Cage at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
Now Liu’s bridge to Cummings School continues with a lecture series she has chosen to bear the name of someone who is her kindred spirit in wildlife conservation: Mark Pokras, V84, associate professor of infectious disease and global health emeritus.
“This is a way I can show what he means to me!” she says. “He has devoted his whole life to wildlife –and from day one, I knew, oh, you are my friend! I had found someone who has dedicated his life to wildlife. He has given them a voice.”
The lecture series is fitting tribute to Pokras, Director of Tufts Wildlife Clinic from 1995 to 2008 and one of the founders of Tufts Center for Conservation Medicine. A gifted speaker, he has long been involved with continuing education for veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators and the public.
His research on lead poisoning in loons led to bans on lead fishing tackle in a number of states. In 2014 he was elected to the Cummings School Faculty Hall of Fame for his work advancing wildlife conservation at the school.
Now retired, he is working on a book while also serving as senior veterinary advisor at the Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland, Maine.
“I am honored,” says Pokras, who says the news came as a total surprise. “I came out to do an April lecture [at the sanctuary] and I thought well, the introduction should take like five seconds, and then Shalin announced she was naming the lecture series after me! Talk about jaw hitting the floor. I was stunned.”
Liu, founder of Summer Star Foundation for Nature, Art and Humanity, met Pokras through her daughter, who had taken classes with him at Cummings School when he was associate professor of environmental and population health.
She invited him to lecture at Taiwan’s Institute of Wildlife Conservation, of which she is a benefactor. She would go on to underwrite research and travel expenses so Cummings School students with a special interest in conservation medicine could gain field experience at the Pingtung Rescue Center for Endangered Wild Animals. The first student to intern there, Laura Harvey, V15, was lead author on a paper on the Chinese pangolin, which she co-authored with Pokras.
It was only natural to rely on Pokras’ subtle understanding of wildlife and their habitats while she started looking for the ideal property for a nature center.
“From the beginning, I had no form to follow – I was just following my honest heart,” says Liu. “But I knew I had to do better at knowing what was possible, and Mark helped me make the best decision.”
Ultimately, she settled on 45 acres, originally slated for development. To minimize any human impact on the wildness of the land, she built a $6 million visitor center that won the U.S. Green Building Council of Massachusetts 2015 Green Building of the Year Award.
The sanctuary’s innovative design includes a small art gallery and an open space with informal seating that accommodates three to four lectures a year.
Both the art and the public lectures are emblematic of Liu’s holistic approach when it comes to engaging the public – nature is both beautiful and yet increasingly at risk. It is also one that Pokras shares – and admires.
For Liu, he says, educating the public, is “a tool to protect those creatures who don’t vote or pay taxes. If you want to change the world, you need to first get people engaged and involved. You can then tap their energy and build their knowledge and skills to bring about real change.”
The next lecture in the Mark Pokras Lecture Series will be held on Saturday, July 16 at 11 a.m. and will feature two wildlife experts. Dr. Tom French, assistant director of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife for the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, will speak on the recovery of bald eagles and peregrine falcons. He will be followed by Dr. Stephany Lewis, V15, an intern at Tufts Wildlife Clinic, who will be presenting on avian muscle disease during captive rehabilitation. (Working behind the scenes as the lecture series coordinator is another Cummings School connection, Mariah Lancaster, V17.)
If you would like to attend, RSVP to Summer Star Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-869-3434 or info@SummerStarWildlife.org.