|April 21, 2000||Volume 7, Number 15|
Vet returns to school to study wapiti in-depth
By Ann Dumonceaux
Leaving a successful veterinary practice to return to graduate school may seem an unusual venture, but Rob McCorkell insists his motivation to resume studies at the University of Saskatchewan with supervisor Gregg Adams was directly a result of questions raised by his experiences as a veterinarian in Sylvan Lake, Alta.
"One of the frustrations in practice is that youve always got another call or another animal waiting, so you dont really have time to find out what it is thats really causing things to happen. But I wanted to dig a little deeper," explains McCorkell.
Practising primarily large-animal medicine, McCorkell witnessed firsthand the frustrations of having limited knowledge of wildlife species.
"There were always complaints in my areas by farmers of large migrating elk herds damaging and destroying feed theyd put out for their cattle."
Observing that the solution was to trap the elk and move them to other areas, McCorkell realized that work needed to be conducted into controlling wildlife populations, especially in highly peopled areas.
Toward this goal, his graduate research has focused on gathering information about the reproductive cycle of Wapiti, also known as North American Elk.
McCorkells work involves conducting daily ultrasound exams to study the development of the follicle within the ovaries.
His presentation of the discovery that the Wapiti, like cattle, develop ovarian follicles in a wave-like fashion, won him national recognition at the 1999 Annual Meeting for the Society of Theriogenology in Nashville, Tenn.
As the most important conference of their society, this meeting is represented by faculty and residents of all veterinary colleges in North America, as well as veterinary practitioners from all over Canada and the United States.
He is also interested in the effect of seasonal changes on ovulation.
"While cattle will continue their reproductive cycle all year round, the Wapiti are controlled more by their environment they calf when theres grass," he observes.
McCorkell notes that Wapiti are currently a problem in Banff National Park.
"They have a large herd that lives directly in town, and there are a lot of stories about people walking out of their houses and bumping into an 1,100-lb stag whos not happy to see them."
McCorkell warns that the males are particularly aggressive during mating season.
"Theyll rise up on their hind legs and strike you with their front legs like a boxer. They will offer to bite, and theyll also kind of punch you with their noses, and of course, they can kick backwards like youd expect."
Because the Wapiti are still a wildlife species, McCorkell notes the challenges of studying their physiology.
"They had to be habituated to being handled, and there was some question as to whether they would tolerate this kind of examination on a regular basis."
However, the Wapiti have performed well for McCorkell.
"Once they learned what was expected of them, they were actually quite docile. Theyd stand quietly."
Beyond wildlife management, McCorkell expects the game farming industry to benefit from his research. Though he explains that the Asian market is currently strong for antler velvet, McCorkell anticipates a movement toward raising Wapiti for meat production.
McCorkell doesnt rule out continuing his studies toward a PhD at the end of his Masters degree, but he is also interested in resuming his veterinary practice.
"My intention when I came was to learn more about these animals, and return to practise with new knowledge of the Wapiti."
Ann Dumonceaux writes profiles of U of S graduate students as part of a fellowship with the College of Graduate Studies and Research.
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