Sea otters are one of these keystone species that without them, it is argued that you will see complete ecosystem changes. So because of the food web structure, if you remove a keystone species you will see the destruction or disappearance of kelp forests that are sustaining, just like rain forests, a multitude of other species.
For me, a lot of it was an ethical decision to work with wildlife. I felt that the world is changing, that we're making the environment less and less able to support wildlife species. And it really affected me and I wanted to do something about it.
I was extremely frustrated at the end of my sophomore year at veterinary school and Envirovet kind of gave me that forward push to stick with it. And showed me that there are a variety of ways that my education will allow me to apply veterinary knowledge to wildlife work.
Envirovet also puts you in contact with many professionals who are in the field. And I got connected with an advisor who specializes in parasitology. And she's become involved in research looking at sea otter deaths due to two parasites, Toxoplasma gondii and Sarcocystis neurona that can only be shed by terrestrial animals. The hypothesis right now is that rain water will flow over cat feces containing these parasites and drive the parasite in over land flows into rivers and streams that end up in the ocean.
There are so many different groups of people that come into question with that research; there's the cat owners, there's the people that are running the reserve where the sea otters live, there are the fishermen that are sharing the same near coast waters as where sea otters hunt. And in order for a project to be successful, you're going to need to be in contact with these different groups of people. And you're going to need their support.
The situation that I was exposed to through Envirovet in Kenya was probably my first direct experience with seeing how crucial it is to involve communities with their own local wildlife health problems. There's no reason why the environment shouldn't be shared with species that have been here for perhaps millions of years but you can't come in as outsiders and tell communities how to run their own land if they don't think that what you have to say is important to their own well being.