Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Catching Up with Past TRC Staff - Dr. Luis Cruz

Dr. Cruz places a cone over a bald eagle
patient's head to deliver anesthesia
in preparation for radiographs.
It has been 2.5 years since I left TRC and Minnesota. During my time at TRC I to provided veterinary care to the raptor patients and conducted several research projects. The project that I was most passionate about was the one on lead poisoning in bald eagles. For this, I looked back at data from over 1, 000 bald eagles admitted to TRC to find clues that would link exposure and poisoning of these birds after ingesting lead bullet fragments from spent ammunition. I also presented the results from this study to several scientific and non-scientific audiences. The study was published in 2012 and can be found online here.

Now, here in Canada I started a toxicology-based PhD program in 2010. The two core aspects of my program are the development of a non-lethal technique to evaluate contaminant exposure on wild birds, and, to measure air contaminants with small monitoring devices deployed on the nests of wild birds.

I started focusing on American kestrels but it has been very challenging from a logistic perspective and also appears that the population in this part of western Canada is declining. I then switched gears and used tree swallows for the fieldwork component. These little passerine birds offer good advantages from a fieldwork perspective and they readily nest around the study area, the oil sands in northern Alberta.

To date, I’m on the laboratory component of my trying find detoxifying enzymes in blood feathers (growing feathers). Such enzymes are mainly found in the liver and the current methods of detection require euthanasia of the bird for sampling. If successful, we would be contributing greatly to wildlife research by providing technique a minimally invasive and non-lethal technique.

As a side note not associated with my project, I had the opportunity to do consulting work for a Costa Rican NGO (non-government organization) last October. The Costarican Raptor Foundation is a new organization actively working on disseminating knowledge and education about raptors. This NGO, along with an indigenous community, is now managing the Kekoldi Hawkwatch Observatory. This site in the Caribbean mountain range of Costa Rica is recognized as the second best place in the world for watching migratory raptors (1st is in Veracruz, Mexico and 3rd is Eilat, Israel).

My visit and consulting work coincided with the peak of migration and I had the amazing opportunity to presence one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen. For example, in only 1 hour of observation, a total of 11, 000 raptors soared over our heads. This experience was also great because my family joined me.

While being amazed by observing this incredible natural phenomenon, lots of good memories came back from the time spent in MN. Somehow, being thousands of miles away, we felt really close to TRC.

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