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Home from Medora

The end has finally come, and I’m back home in Fort Collins.  I had an amazing time this summer working at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in ND, on the wild horse fertility control study.  Many great friendships were made, and I was able to experience real ranch living.  I’m very thankful for being given this unique summer research opportunity, and can’t think of a better way I could have spent my summer.  Now I’m off to Georgia next week to present on the project!  As always, I’ll finish my post with some pictures from my last week in Medora.

Have a great summer everyone!



Nearing the end of the summer in ND…

Only a week left!  It’s unbelievable that I’ll soon be headed back to Fort Collins, to continue with the daily grind.  Lindsey is headed out on Friday, so I’ll be on my own at the cabin for a few days, before my parents arrive for a quick tour of Medora and Theodore Roosevelt park.  Sometimes, riding the range is required every week to find all the horses participating in the fertility control study.  This last week I’ve gone out with some fellow researchers, Al and his wife Jennifer.  It’s been a blast to be riding again, and Lindsey has loaned me her horse Colonel a few times as well!  Riding through the park can be a great way to cover a lot of ground quickly, although the wild bands definitely take more notice of riders on horses.  Once a band is sighted, it’s often necessary to hobble the riding horses and proceed on foot to get closer to the feral horses.  In August, I’ll be presenting on part of the project at the Merck/Merial veterinary scholars symposium in Georgia, so I’m starting to work on getting the materials for my poster together in between searching for bands in the park.  I’ll be sure to post once more before I leave Medora!

Horses, horses everywhere!

Time is flying by, and we continue to observe reproductive behaviors among the horses in the park.  Plus, two foals were born this past week!  We’ve been collecting a lot of data for the fertility-control study, and it will be exciting to see some results once the data is reviewed.  Portions of the study fall under the classification of good laboratory practices (GLP).  On GLP data sheets (such as the one where we evaluate any injection site reactions from the vaccine), we have to use a specific type of pen, and any mistakes must be crossed out with a single line, and include the reason for the mistake, our initials, and the date.  The injection site sheet also includes areas to input each mare’s specific code for identification, their body condition score (ranging from 1-10, with 5 being optimal), which stallion they were observed with, and whether they appear pregnant or not.  There are about 15 bands in the park, with around 100 horses in total, and all the mares must be evaluated once a week.  Occasionally a mare will disappear from one band, only to reappear with a different stallion!  Mares will also leave a band for a period of time to have their foal, so we make sure to keep on the lookout for new arrivals when this occurs.  I’ve included some more horse pictures (anyone getting tired of horses yet?  🙂 ), but will try my best to add some varying flora and fauna to picture posts.

Another week in the badlands…

I can’t believe I’ve almost been here a month already!  The weather has stayed fairly moderate – apparently it’s been much cooler this summer than in the past, and we’ve gotten a large amount of rain. I’m not sure if it’s because of the weather, but the majority of the bands have been sticking to one particular area of the park, named Linbo Flats.  The flats are quite a ways from the loop road that travels throughout the park, and hiking is often required.  Although a lower elevation that Fort Collins, the badlands of Theodore Roosevelt park require a lot of hiking up and down numerous hills, so we are getting good cardio workouts!  The study I’m working on is long-term – to begin, last summer the horses were observed before being treated with the drug.  Last fall during a scheduled round-up and horse auction, the mares participating in the study were given either the GonaCon vaccine or a saline injection. By that time they were already pregnant (or not), so it did not affect this year’s crop of new foals.  The drug is very viscous so as to ensure a slow release over a few years, and we are now observing the bands to see if the drug may be having any behavioral effects on band dynamics.  Next summer the researchers will be able to ascertain the efficacy of the drug, when the number of foals produced will be compared to previous years.  Normally, the horses in the park have a 90% pregnancy rate (much higher than domestic horses), which causes the number of horses in the park to increase by 30% every year, and is the cause for round-ups and horse auctions.  Hopefully, if the vaccine is successful, the horses will be able to run free in the park for longer periods of time without human intervention.

Hello again from Medora!

I have had quite an exciting week looking for mares undergoing their foal heats (a good time to observe repro behaviors, that occurs 7-10 days after their foal is born) and striking out on my own to look for bands.  A few fellow vet students from CSU visited Lindsey and I on Saturday as they traveled through North Dakota for a RAVS trip, and I took them on a tour of the park, as well as to a longhorn cattle branding out in the middle of nowhere, which was a sight to see!  The weather here has been very tumultuous, with sunny skies one day and torrential rains and thunderstorms the next, which dictates where in the park we are able to hike to look for the horses.  On very rainy days, we are forced to do observations from our truck (Lindsey and I drive the park’s government trucks when we are working in the park, to help us look more official while studying the bands).  Now I’ll leave you with some photos from my last week – I thought the one of my little car next to the train of trucks and trailers at the branding to be particularly humorous!

Greetings from Alanna in horse country!

The last week has been busy with learning to recognize different horses and bands by sight, and the proper way to fill out all the paperwork for the study.  Last week Drs. Dan Baker and Jenny Powers (the study coordinators) visited TRNP, as well as Jason Ransom, an expert in wild horse behaviors, and it was extremely valuable to get their input on various behaviors witnessed.  Last Sunday I attended a cattle branding, which was a fun way to get in the North Dakota spirit!  I’ve been spending a lot of time learning the ropes with my coworker Heidi Garbe, and my summer roommate/coworker Lindsey Eby, who is also blogging this summer.  Lindsey and I are staying in a cute little cabin 15 miles from Medora, in the middle of the countryside, so it’s been nice waking up to quiet and wildlife every morning here.  I’ll end with that, but have a few more horse pics!

Hello from ND!

Hello everyone, and greetings from Medora, North Dakota!  My name is Alanna Kirby, and I will be a second year veterinary student at CSU starting this fall.  I’m interested in equine medicine, and this summer I’m working for two months in the wilds of the badlands. I have been hard at work from my first day here, traveling throughout Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) in search of feral horses.  The project I am working on this summer involves monitoring behaviors of feral horses in the park enrolled in a fertility control study.  TRNP houses elk, bison, deer, pronghorn, rattlesnakes, and of course the feral horses, although the park is not home to any natural predators.  This has led to an increased number of animals within the park, and more than the environment can sustain.  Thus, the concept of fertility control measures are being explored, where mares are given a vaccine to prevent them from becoming pregnant for a period of time.  Although this is a good idea, researchers want to be sure that the vaccine is not causing any unwanted behavioral changes between the horses in the various bands, or groups, which is what I’ll be studying.  I’ve posted a few neat pictures, and I’ll keep the blog updated with my ongoing adventures!