Feb. 5, 2020

UCalgary researchers host workshop for northern Indigenous hunters

North and south learn from each other about Arctic wildlife health
Two people in lab with test tube
Indigenous hunters learn about disease investigation in the lab. Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

For many years, researchers from the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) have travelled to northern communities to work with locals to respond to concerns about wildlife health. Through collaborative community-based wildlife health surveillance programs, Inuit and First Nations hunters collect samples of animals for the researchers to examine for parasites and disease, and report any abnormalities they may encounter in animals they harvest. Some of those hunters came to Calgary for three days to learn more about wildlife monitoring techniques and disease investigation in the lab.

Five hunters from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., and Wabasca in northern Alberta visited UCVM for a series of workshops. They heard from a number of experts including UCVM pathologist Dr. Dayna Goldsmith, DVM, and Knut Madslien, a visiting scientist from Norway who studies moose health. The workshop was organized by Dr. Fabien Mavrot, DVM, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Susan Kutz, PhD,’s lab at UCVM supported by a grant from the Shikar Foundation.

“We discussed what we do with all the samples that are collected, why we ask for certain samples from the harvesters and we did some hands-on activities where they did some of the lab analysis and post-mortem examinations themselves,” says Mavrot, who studies muskox health and new diseases in the Arctic. “We also talked about what to do when you encounter an animal where you suspect any kind of disease, any kind of abnormal cause of death, or cause of sickness. We talked about how to properly take samples and protect yourself.”

People in lab looking into microscopes

Workshop participants learn how to detect parasite eggs in fecal samples.

Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Changing climate brings new animal health concerns in the North

People in northern communities are increasingly concerned about the health of animals they rely on for food. “They sometimes see abnormalities in the animals,” says Kutz, professor in the Department of Ecosystem and Public Health at UCVM, who has researched wildlife health in the Arctic and Subarctic for more than two decades. “Because they are their own meat inspectors and things are changing in the North, they often are quite worried about things that they see that they don't recognize.”

This is the second time UCVM has hosted a workshop for Indigenous hunters on campus. This year’s event is a result of a new collaboration with Dr. Janelle Baker and colleagues at Athabasca University, and the Bigstone Cree First Nation in Wabasca, which is training two hunters how to monitor moose health.

Researchers and hunters share wildlife insights

As well as learning more about how to investigate disease in animals, the hunters shared some of their knowledge with the researchers.

“We got a lot of insights about animal health and the role of wildlife in their cultures, not just for food, but the importance in their culture,” says Kutz. “During the post-mortem, a couple of the hunters showed us how you skin a bear. As vets we look at animals very differently. We are either doing surgery on them or post-mortems, whereas hunters use them in a different way.”

A couple of hunters showed how they measure an important component of animal health, back fat, by measuring the thickness with their fingers as in: “one, two or three fingers fat.”

Group photo of workshop attendees and instructors.

Hunters from the Arctic visited UCVM for workshops on wildlife monitoring and disease investigation.

  • Photo above: Workshop participants and instructors, from left: Knut Madslien, Joseph Haluksit, Filip Rakic, Susan Kutz, Clarence Kaiyogona, Fabien Mavrot, Craig Beaver, Colin Okheena, Rick Beaver. Faculty of Veterinary Medicine photo

“The interactions with grad students and postdocs are really, really rich,” adds Kutz. And when workshop participants are back in the North, they share the information they learned at UCVM with other people in their communities. “People talk to each other, they learn from each other,” says Mavrot. “I think this is a good way to increase disease knowledge and awareness in those communities.”

As part of UCVM’s One Community, One Health Strategic Plan, the faculty is committed to working with, and learning from, Indigenous Canadians, and building on current programs and linkages with Indigenous communities in wildlife health, and ecosystem and public health.

We are thankful for the support of Canada North Outfitting, Indigenous Fund for Community-based Environmental Monitoring, Government of Canada; Nunavut Arctic College, Polar Knowledge Canada, Irving Maritime Shipbuilding; and the Shikar Foundation.