Dr. David W. Tonkyn

Population ecology

Clemson University

Vratika Chaudhary

Vratika Chaudhary

Masters student

vchaudh@g.clemson.edu

 

Bachelors of Dental Surgery (2006-2011)

Dr. R A Dental College and Hospital

West Bengal University of Health Sciences

Kolkata, West Bengal, India

 

 

I gained my degree in Bachelor of Dental Surgery from Dr. R. A. Dental College and Hospital in Kolkata, India. The school is close to the habitat of the largest population of wild tigers in the world- the Sunderbans, a mangrove forest that extends links India and Bangladesh. During my visits to the region to hold oral health camps, I heard numerous stories about man-tiger conflicts, and later conducted an independent study of tiger attacks on humans and livestock between 2010-2011, including causes, impacts, and proposed mitigations.  As I learned more about biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation and other conservation issues in south Asia, I realized there was a great need for scientific research and decided to leave my dental career. I worked as a field naturalist in Kanha National Park, India from 2011-2012, and came to Clemson University in the fall of 2013 to begin research on infectious disease threats to tigers and other wild carnivores in India.

 

For my MS research, I am studying the role of feral dogs and cats around Kanha Tiger Reserve as reservoirs and vectors for several diseases of conservation importance. These diseases include rabies, canine distemper, parvovirus and tuberculosis and they can infect wild carnivores such as wild dogs, jackals, jungle cats, leopards and tigers, as well as humans and livestock. I am conducting this study in collaboration with the Centre for Wildlife Forensics and Health (CWFH) in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India. As part of my first field season this summer, I surveyed populations of feral and semi-owned dogs in the villages surrounding the Reserve, including photo mark-recaptures, interviews with villagers, and direct examinations.  I collected blood samples from a large number of these dogs as well as from wild carnivore samples obtained by the CWFH with the help of the Forest Department. My initial results show moderately high incidence of infection by multiple diseases in these dogs, and I will carry this study further by obtaining more samples, multiple sampling, viral RNA/ DNA extraction and sequencing.

 

My goal is to measure the potential threats of disease spillover, if any, from the feral dog population to wild carnivores and to use this information as the scientific basis for mitigation plans.