UC Davis Veterinary School Saves Animals From Extinction

When you hear the words “UC Davis,” you probably think of that awful campus cop who in 2011 pepper sprayed the faces of protestors during an Occupy movement demonstration – and, five years later, the revelation that the university paid $175,000 to have stories and images of that shameful incident buried online.

While that incident and the cover-up attempt are disgraceful, what’s not making many headlines is something very positive the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine has been doing. Ranked at No. 1 in the world, the school is working to save animals like the following from extinction.

Mountain Gorillas

Mostly because of hunters, fewer than 300 mountain gorillas remained in existence in Africa back in the 1980s. Since then, that number has almost tripled because of the work of conservationists including Gorilla Doctors, a partnership between UC Davis’ Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center (WHC) and the nonprofit Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.

Gorilla Doctors provides veterinary care to critically endangered wild mountain and eastern lowland gorillas that live in national parks in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The group is also researching mountain gorilla genetics. A groundbreaking study it participated in last year found severe inbreeding among the gorillas, going back thousands of years. Surprisingly, the inbreeding was actually helpful in some cases because it got rid of harmful genes.

Mountain Lions

Like mountain gorillas, mountain lions in Los Angeles County have resorted to inbreeding because busy freeways make traveling beyond their habitat a dangerous proposition. Earlier this year, the National Park Service said inbreeding is a “significant threat” to their population.

Wildlife veterinarians with the WHC are providing their expertise to inform management decisions about how to protect the mountain lion population. In what’s very promising news, last month Los Angeles lawmakers voted to create a new law that would require a wildlife corridor in the Santa Monica Mountains and protect it from property development.

California Condors

California condor

Photo credit: Brian Sims

When birds, especially the endangered California condor, eat the carcasses of animals that were killed with lead ammunition, they can be poisoned by shrapnel that quickly enters their bloodstreams, according to a study a few years ago by the WHC in conjunction with California state agencies.

“A single 22-caliber bullet contains enough lead to fatally poison a healthy adult condor, and it’s not an easy death: the birds’ digestive systems shut down and they die of starvation,” according to KCET.

Thanks in large part to the study’s findings, a statewide ban on toxic lead bullets went into effect in 2013.

Catalina Island Foxes

Half of all the adult Santa Catalina foxes on Catalina Island used to have ear tumors, which often were malignant. In fact, these foxes had the highest prevalence of tumors ever documented for wildlife.

But that number was drastically reduced after UC Davis, in partnership with the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS) and Catalina Island Conservancy, discovered the tumors were caused by ear-mite infections. These infections could be prevented with small amounts of acaracide, a chemical used to kill ear mites in dogs and cats.

Prior to a six-month pilot program, about 98 percent of the Santa Catalina foxes had ear-mite infections. At the conclusion of the program, only 10 percent were infected.

Tricolored Blackbirds

Between 2008 and 2014, the number of tricolored blackbirds in California dropped from 400,000 to 145,000, according to a 2014 survey coordinated by UC Davis. These birds usually build their nests in marshes and wetlands, but because of the state’s severe drought, they were nesting instead in fields of the grain triticale.

When the grain was harvested, the birds were killed.

Alarmed by the results of this survey, the California Fish and Game Commission quickly gave the tricolored blackbird temporary protection under the Endangered Species Act. A coalition of farmers is asking for the harvests to be delayed until after the nesting season to help save the birds.

Photo credit: Dave Proffer


Jetana A
Jetana A4 months ago

Nice to read positive articles like this one!

Lorraine A
Lorraine Andersen4 months ago

an update on how the school is doing now would be great. nice to read this again though, thanks for sharing

Marija M
Marija M5 months ago

Thank you very much UC Davis Veterinary School...

Sue H
Sue H5 months ago

UC Davis does excellent work.

Elisa F
Elisa F2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba2 years ago

Great idea

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Erin H.
Erin H2 years ago

Interesting article, thank you for sharing!

Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Good work done by good people.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

I am glad to see them supporting wildlife as well as a great vet school.