Community Health Close to Home

It’s always some kind of climate issue when I’m out in Montana. Last time it was a huge fire that burned hundreds of thousands of acres. This time it’s sub-zero temperatures. Brrrr!

The Montana Northern Cheyenne landscape covered in snow.

The Montana Northern Cheyenne landscape covered in snow.

I have been visiting with Montana’s Northern Cheyenne for four years now. What started as a relationship centered on black-footed ferret recovery has now blossomed into assisting the Tribe with gathering information about their domestic dog, cat and horse populations.

As we’ve seen in the Serengeti, wildlife health (i.e. ferrets and prairie dogs, among other species) and human health are connected to domestic species. This has local implications too. During my time in Montana, I’ve noticed dogs and horses just walking down main street or begging for food at the gas station.

A free-roaming dog encountered by zoo scientists.

A free-roaming dog encountered by zoo scientists.

Horses also roam through the area as well.

Horses also roam through the area as well.

A video of horses moving through town.

On this most recent visit, the traveling Lincoln Park Zoo scientists met with the Indian Health Service. This governmental agency oversees the health center on the reservation. We learned during our meeting with IHS that roughly 50 people every year report they’ve have been bitten by a dog. There is definitely a disease risk, like rabies, not just with dogs but also with the horses and cattle.

Lincoln Park Zoo scientists are working with the Indian Health Servicee to study the impact of free-roaming domestic animals on human--and wildlife--health.

Lincoln Park Zoo scientists are working with the Indian Health Service to study the impact of free-roaming domestic animals on human--and wildlife--health.

Our goal is to gather valuable data on domestic animal ownership practices and combine it with IHS’ human health data. This information can be used to help the Tribe develop management strategies for these free-roaming animals—a step that can benefit people, wildlife and the animals themselves.

Rachel Santymire

Rachel Santymire, Ph.D., is director of Lincoln Park Zoo's Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology.  

Rachel Santymire, Ph.D., is director of Lincoln Park Zoo's Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology.

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