Recently, I participated in the 63rd Annual Wildlife Disease Association (WDA) Conference held at Albuquerque, New Mexico from July 26th to August 1st. It is the premier meeting for wildlife health specialists globally. Delegates come from all over the world and include: wildlife veterinarians, biologists, parasitologist, ecologists and pathologists, as well as wildlife managers, conservation organizations and individuals involved in policy. It was my first international conference participation and I was excited and nervous as well. To add to the excitement, it was my first ever trip to the United States. I left home, all set for the conference on the beautiful day of July 25th. Except a 3-hour delay at Phoenix airport, the trip was smooth.
The pre-conference events kicked off with a student field trip to Vales Caldera National Preserve (VCNP). It was a chance for local sight seeing and exploring some native flora and fauna of New Mexico. We had a couple of hours voluntary workout to help people working at the preserve to manage the wetland. It was amazing to see the amount of work and time people have donated to maintain this preserve over the years. We were taken around the preserve after the lunch. This preserve had stunning landscapes, large acreage of cattle pastures, beautiful birds, big herds of Elks, cute little ground and golden squirrels and numerous colonies of Prairie dogs. That was a trip to go for. This trip also brought the students from different universities together and we could discuss our research and share knowledge.
The 2nd day was the workshop day. The workshop on “Field Investigation for
Wildlife Mortality” was a simple yet much important workshop especially designed for students involved in wildlife research. Beside all the knowledge on different areas of field investigation for wildlife mortality and sampling, it was a great opportunity to meet and network with some big names in the field of wildlife research and field investigation. I couldn’t attend the welcome reception that evening at the conference site, as I still had to give final touch to my presentation before I submit it to the registration desk.
The conference talk series officially started with welcome speech from Thierry Work, President of WDA, on the third day. The day was filled with excellent talks from some renowned scientists. The theme for the day was “One Health”. It was a wealth of knowledge presented from policy to the practice level in one health, which is arguably the most popular and well-received area at present. I was particularly impressed by Craig Stephen’s talk where he proposed one health to adopt cumulative approach or “interprobleminary” approach to the biophysical and social space that provide wildlife with their resources for health (in his words). This concept sounded practical to me as various stressors, which cannot be studied in an isolated manner, challenge wildlife simultaneously. I enjoyed all the talks thoroughly because I have always been interested in this concept. Although my research doesn’t necessarily focuses directly in “One Health”, there is always a connection to human health if you are working in an arctic ungulate. A great event was lined up for that evening “ The Student-Mentor Mixer” to be held at Kaktus Brewing Company in Bernalillo. I got a chance to taste some locally brewed beer and Mexican food. I added some more friends in my friend-list from different areas of the globe. This social event gave us the opportunity to spend friendly time with some big Profs and talk on things besides research and work. The other day was a big day for me as I was set to present my talk. I would love to stay longer but had to leave early to make sure I have a good night sleep and do a couple more rounds of practice presentations on my own. Nevertheless, it was an amazing evening and I enjoyed a lot.
Here comes the big day for me. Although, I was fully prepared for my talk, I can’t lie saying that I was not nervous. The day was for student presentations and my talk was scheduled at the afternoon session. It was a long wait. Most of the talks were really nice and thought provoking. In my view, student’s presentations were better structured; result oriented and easily understood which was not always true in the other presentations. The hall was all packed with wildlife professionals, guests, graduate students and other delegates from all over the world. I had never presented a large mass of people like this. This was terrifying but I was always trying to control my nerves and keep my spirits high until it was my turn. Finally it’s my turn and the wait was over. My talk was titled “Climate change and Muskox Lungworms: Tracking Distribution and Range Expansion in The Canadian Arctic”. When I recall my experience while presenting, I was nervous in the beginning but I was pretty relaxed and confident of what I was talking. It was easier than what I had expected. It went on easier and easier as slides progressed and I defended well at the end. I realized that my talk was well received when many colleagues and even faculties wanted to discuss and praised my work. That was a perfect start for me. Another great event was set up for that day’s evening. An outdoor Mexican food picnic took place at the Cottonwood Event Center on the grounds of Tamaya. A silent and live auction was held indoors following the complimentarily dinner and drinks. The host of the auction was truly brilliant. It was another amazing evening. Had chance to taste some latin cocktails, local beers and typical Mexican food. I discovered that Mexican food is closer to our food back home. Meeting new people and updating my friend-list was an ongoing process. Overall it was a great day.
The 4th day of the conference had a half-day talk and field trips and workshops for the rest of the day. I decided to take a break as I was not signed up for any of these events. I went to downtown Albuquerque to visit my brother and his family for a day. As I was used to weather of Calgary, Albuquerque was too hot for me. Anyway it was great to see my brother and his family and spend a day with them.
The 5th day had a number of talks in a couple of themes lined up. Susan presented her talk after lunch, which summarized the big picture of muskox and their health in the Canadian Arctic in intriguing manner. The session on “ Emerging Diseases of Wildlife “ was my best because it was filled with great talks involving wide range of hosts and pathogens from sea otters, sea star to farmed Bison. There had to be a great event for the evening like always and that day’s evening was highlighted by a grand banquet held at RioGrande Zoo and Albuquerque Aquarium and Botanical Gardens. Highlights of the banquet, besides the great local cuisine, flora, and fauna, included a sneak peak of next year’s conference, local color stories, and presentation of major WDA awards. WDA awards include the Ed Addison Distinguished Service Award, the Emeritus Award, the Tom Thorne and Beth Williams Memorial Award, student awards, and the infamous Duck Award to the unfortunate recipient recognized to have made the biggest blunder at the conference! Mexican tequila was great but little hard on me. I had a blast at the party. Great food, wonderful drinks and native flora/fauna, what else would one want for an evening! It was another chance to network and make new friends. I can certainly say, everyone would have wanted the party to go on an on, we had so much fun. To add to the excitement, we were received in a LIMO, it was an unbelievable experience. Reached the hotel room late in a jolly mood. Sad but true, it was the end of the Conference for me. I was returning home the other day.
To summarize, this was my first international conference participation and it can easily stand out as best not only because of the quality of the conference but also because of the different events put together to make it a complete package. From field trips to the workshops and winding up with a great banquet, this conference had all what a student, faculty or professional would want beside the regular talks. The success of WDA and the conference was highlighted at the last Business Meeting and I was delighted to be a part of this. This conference provided me a chance to get along with so many colleagues from all around the world working in diverse researches and more importantly with numerous faculties/scientists/professionals who could be the ones to follow for my future endeavors. It was the greatest feeling to hear all the good words about my talk, and discuss my research with big names in our field. This was not just a conference for me but a full package involving wealth of knowledge, networking, exploration and one week of total fun.
I heartily acknowledge NSERC CREATE Host parasite interaction group of University of Calgary for providing financial support to participate in this conference. It would not have been possible without their support. I feel proud to be a part of HPI group. I am also looking forward to participate in the next WDA conference to be held next year in Queensland, Australia.