Vet Student Heads Up First-Of-Its-Kind Research Project on St. Kitts Tortoises


Oct 8, 2008—(North Brunswick, NJ)—Krista Keller, a sixth semester student studying exotic animals at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, is heading up a first-of-its-kind research project on the indigenous population of tortoises in St. Kitts with the help of her mentor, Dr. Tammi Krecek, associate dean for research.

The project is important because, according to Krista, reptile medicine is in its infancy and there is little known about how environmental factors impact this animal population.

There are three separate herds of tortoises that are being studied. “I am looking at how management schemes are different between the herds and how that is affecting the health of the herd and the parasite load of the herd,” she explained. “I collect my samples by going to each one of the herds every week and doing health surveys, taking fecal samples, keeping track of their diet and rainfall and basically anything that could affect them.”

One of the main goals of the project is to discover what factors lead to increased fecal egg counts of intestinal parasites in tortoises. “Because of the differences in husbandry practices, I am hoping to find which factors of diet, substrate, and population density correlate with certain parasites and the relative numbers of those parasites,” Krista said.

When asked what she has learned from the project so far, Krista responded, “Research is always a problem-solving venture and requires more then book smarts. Since the onset of the project I have learned a lot about finding appropriate resources to help me—whether they are related to personnel or literature.”

Krista is hoping to present conclusive results to her classmates before she leaves St. Kitts. “Ultimately, it would be ideal to have another student interested in parasitology, research or reptile medicine to take the project over and keep the sampling going,” she said.

Tortoise research isn’t the only project Krista has been involved in during her time at Ross. She also leads a group of volunteers at the local zoo, and she recently helped her classmates conduct a follow-up survey about local attitudes towards dogs in St Kitts.

“For several weekends we went down to the marketplace and asked Kittitians questions about how they felt about dogs. It is very interesting to see different points of view on the subject of pets. Some of the Kittitians also had questions for us about veterinary medicine or flea control or whatever, so it ended up being a lot of fun,” she said.

According to Krista, her ultimate goal concerning the tortoise research project is to have it published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine.

“That’s my top choice for publication. For your first project you kind of have to go with what you get, but why not go for the top first? So we’ll see.”

About Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine

Ross University was founded in 1978 and is a provider of medical and veterinary education offering doctor of medicine and doctor of veterinary medicine degree programs. The School of Veterinary Medicine is located in St. Kitts. The School of Medicine is located in Dominica, West Indies, with a new clinical education center scheduled to open in Freeport, Grand Bahama, in January 2009.

The first seven semesters of pre-clinical training at the School of Veterinary Medicine are taught in St. Kitts over a 28-month period. Semesters eight through ten are spent completing clinical studies at one of 22 Ross affiliated, AVMA–accredited U.S. veterinary schools. Ross University students are held to high standards and must pass the same licensing exams as graduates of United States schools.

Ross University’s administrative offices are located in North Brunswick, NJ. For more information about Ross University, visit or call 732.509.4600.

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