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Working with the Loon Rangers at LPC: MS in Conservation Medicine Externship

Dr. Estefania Parra Ochoa, MCM’17, Discusses her Externship with the The Loon Preservation Committee (LPC)

The Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) works to preserve loons (Gavia immer) and their habitats in New Hampshire. LPC´s mission is to restore and maintain a healthy population of loons throughout NH; to monitor the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and to promote a greater understanding of loons and the larger natural world.

 

(Loon with chicks on back. Photo c/o John Rockwood )

The work of LPC integrates monitoring, research, management, and outreach/public education initiatives. One of their research approaches is to investigate how loons could act as biomonitors of environmental health, specifically regarding some contaminants that could impact environmental quality, such as heavy metals (lead and mercury). LPC investigates the possible effects of toxic substances and pathogens in loon populations, testing failed loon eggs, livers of dead loons and taking blood and feather samples of adult loons when they are capture for banding. This is a collaborative work with the BioDiversity Research Institute in Gorham, Maine.

 

(Lead testing)

I am lucky enough to be working with the “Loon rangers,” a cool way to call the field biologists that are working during the summer monitoring the loon nesting population. Monitoring loons is also possible thanks to the support of local volunteers that collaborate with the biologists informing about the loon pairs and their breeding success in different lakes. These biologists would also be responding to calls from concern citizens about loons that may need help or they would be collecting reported dead loons.

 

Estefania Parra Ochoa Loon feathers sampling 2

(Loon feathers sampling)

As the veterinary extern from the MCM program I am assisting to the capture procedure, which involves taking specific body measurements, weighing, banding and blood and feather sampling. We also have to process the blood samples according to different research needs; in general we measure the PCV, total solids and test it for lead. I am also performing necropsies of wild loon mortalities in order to try to find out the cause of death.

 

This externship has been very enriching for me as a wildlife veterinarian because I could apply my medical background and combine it with the ecological and health information collected by LPC, in order to analyze the data, looking for the big picture. Loon population health is also environmental health, which is what Conservation Medicine is all about.

 

To learn more about The Loon Preservation Committee (LPC), visit http://www.loon.org/