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Call of the Wild--MPVM Profile

November 18, 2014

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Dharmaveer Shetty has worked in numerous locations with both free-ranging and captive wildlife. His focus is on the connection between the environment and animal health.

November 2014

This article also appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of California Veterinarian magazine.

Even while working as a veterinarian in a predominantly small animal practice in urban India, Dharmaveer Shetty could not ignore the call of the wild. During his holidays, he consulted as a wildlife veterinarian for a captive elephant welfare study. But his true calling was towards free-ranging wildlife. Realizing the importance of a holistic, interdisciplinary approach in ensuring protection, he completed a master’s course in wildlife biology and conservation at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore to expand his toolkit. 

During his masters program, he spent approximately a third of his time in the wilderness conducting surveys and gathering samples across various species as part of his training process. For his dissertation, he started investigating the incidence of parasitic communities, as well as parvovirus and feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV) in wild Asiatic lions.

“I began to see more clearly the link between environment and animal health, and the huge impact that emerging diseases could have on conservation strategies,” Shetty says.

After a satisfying stint at the Envirovet Summer Institute, and subsequently, as a captive wildlife veterinarian at the Mysore Zoo, and a free-ranging wildlife veterinarian at the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Shetty came to UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. While he originally planned to pursue a Ph.D. in epidemiology, he soon decided to combine it with a Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine (MPVM) degree

“There’s a lot of overlap in coursework, but the professional MPVM course provides me with the opportunity to gain more hands-on experience,” he says.

As part of his MPVM project, Shetty collaborated with the local forest department and spent the first three months of 2014 at a wildlife sanctuary in southern India, asking questions about the potential for parvovirus and FPLV spillover from domestic cats and dogs into wild tigers and leopards. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists these big cats as endangered and near threatened, respectively. Worldwide, both are at risk due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and heavy poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts. With their numbers in crisis, researchers feel it is critical to further conservation efforts to understand any diseases that may affect them.

So far, Shetty has positively identified the presence of FPLV in one leopard and a suspected case from a tiger, in addition to domestic animal cases. The genetic fingerprint of the leopard FPLV closely matches that of a domestic cat FPLV obtained from a veterinary hospital in an adjacent state.

“This raises a lot of questions. Where did the virus originate? Does it circulate between the two species, or does one species serve as a reservoir host for the disease without becoming symptomatic? Right now we have more questions than answers,” Shetty says.

But the MPVM program is giving him the tools to look for the answers. The curriculum offers core courses in epidemiology concepts, study design, research methods, ecosystem health, and biostatistics. Students may explore zoonotic disease, food safety, mathematical modeling, disease ecology, and many more courses from throughout the university.

The MPVM is a one to two-year graduate professional program open to veterinarians and other medical professionals. Since 1967, more than 900 graduates have excelled worldwide in leadership, academic, and research positions with universities, private industry, international agencies, non-governmental organizations, and governments.

The application period for the MPVM program is now open with a deadline of Jan. 15, 2015. For more info, visit http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/mpvm/.