News

RUSVM Alumna Travels to Peruvian Rainforest to Study Wild Macaws

02/23/11

Dr. Christy Belcher ’07

Dr. Christy Belcher ’07

In January, RUSVM alumna Dr. Christy Belcher ’07 traveled to the remote rainforests of southeastern Peru to take part in an ongoing research project on macaws, a type of parrot indigenous to the region.

The Tambopata Macaw Project is a long-term multidisciplinary study of natural history, conservation, and management of large macaws that nest along the Tambopata River at Collpa Colorado, the largest known macaw clay-lick (areas where the birds can find important salts and minerals) in the world. The main topics of study include monitoring and observation of macaw nests, increasing survival rates of macaw chicks, and documenting patterns of clay-lick use by large macaws.

For Dr. Belcher, a zoo and exotic veterinarian who splits her time between the Greenville Zoo in South Carolina and two area veterinary hospitals, it was an opportunity that could not be missed.

“Because the project is based in such a remote part of the rainforest, it provides a good representation of what really goes on in the wild with these birds,” she said. “The clay-lick is eight hours from any type of civilization and has to be reached by canoe. Going to school in St. Kitts actually helped prepare me for some of the things we experienced on the trip.”

This year, about 15 different nests were studied, with each nest having anywhere from one to three chicks.

“The nests are located about 100 feet up in the air—it’s amazing. Every day, a climber would go up and carefully take the chicks and place them in a basket, which was then lowered to the ground. At that point, we would take over and do a complete exam on each chick.”

It is hoped that the information learned from this trip and others like it will give veterinarians a better understanding of the biological makeup of these birds in the wild, which will allow them to provide better treatment for captive birds in the future.

“The trip allowed me to get a better understanding of the role these birds play in our ecosystem.  It also helped me understand some things from a veterinary standpoint that we see in the wild, but not in captivity,” she noted.

Dr. Belcher has wanted to become a veterinarian—and particularly a zoo medicine veterinarian—since she was four years old.

“I was always intrigued by National Geographic and spent a lot of time at the zoo as a kid. As an undergraduate student I volunteered at animal shelters, and during my breaks from Ross I volunteered at the Greeneville Zoo,” she said.

“If I had one piece of advice to give to prospective veterinary students it would be to volunteer,” she continued. “Every opportunity I’ve had has been the result of a lot of research and volunteerism. It’s important to learn as much as you can about what you think you want to do in life to be sure of your path.”

About Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine

Ross University is a provider of medical and veterinary education, offering doctor of medicine and doctor of veterinary medicine degree programs. Founded in 1982 and located in St. Kitts, the School of Veterinary Medicine is affiliated with 22 AVMA-accredited US veterinary schools where students complete their clinical year.  The School of Medicine is located in Dominica, West Indies, with clinical education centers in Saginaw, MI and Miami, FL.

Ross University’s administrative offices are located in North Brunswick, NJ. For more information about Ross University, visit www.RossU.edu or call 732.509.4600/877.ROSS.EDU.

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