Student Story: Vet Science major finds different perspectives in Belize

Emily Spadaro spent her summer caring for jaguars at a zoo, castrating pigs and a horse, and swimming in a waterfall.

A senior majoring in Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Spadaro completed a four-week study-abroad program in Belize that consisted of a course in large-animal and tropical veterinary practices for the first two weeks, and a wildlife conservation and ecology course for the last two weeks.

During the large-animal course, when not in the classroom, she was "right in the middle of the action" on farm calls. She learned how to conduct full examinations on horses and how to perform castrations, and spent a day in a diagnostics lab. Spadaro and other students also helped at a free spay-and-neuter clinic where they conducted check-ups, assisted with surgeries and performed surgery aftercare.

"It was really cool to interact with the people of Belize and have them ask us for help," she said.

During this course, the students stayed at a resort in the city and hiked, swam in a waterfall and explored Mayan ruins. "We were going, going, going every single day, all day," she said.

For the wildlife conservation course, students lived at a tropical education center directly across from the zoo where they spent time observing keepers, preparing food, cleaning and helping people interact with the animals.

Zoos in Belize take only animals that need help, whether because the animal is aggressive, injured or otherwise causing problems. The zoo where Spadaro studied had almost 20 jaguars for this reason.

Her favorite animal was the tapir, a large animal most closely related to horses and rhinos, with a long snout that it extended when she had food that it wanted. The zoo also had many exotic birds. Spadaro was so enamored with the zoo animals that she returned on her free weekend.

The instructor of the wildlife conservation course held a doctorate in conservation and researched large cats. He took the students to nature reserves, and there they learned how to track large cats with GPS collars. They also learned how to use mist nets and to band birds, methods used to catch and track birds to learn about their migration patterns.

Students also went snorkeling to learn about sea life and visited a large marine reserve.

Prior to studying abroad, Spadaro had no interest in working with large animals.

"It was the coolest experience -- I think it really opened all the different possibilities," she said. 

Seeing is Belizing ... While in the Caribbean, Emily Spadaro studied large-animal and tropical veterinary practices as well as wildlife conservation and ecology. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated June 26, 2015