Travel Animal Doctor: World Health Day

Travel Animal Doctor: World Health Day

World Health Day is today, and food safety is the topic of the day. -Travel Animal Doctor

But food is not the only daily requirement that, contaminated, can be harmful and may harbor disease. People have probably heard stories about waterborne diseases in developing countries, but it also occurs right at your back door.

How would you feel if you stopped by the gas station for some coffee on the way to work, and was unable to get it because the water in the city was bad?

This is what happened to a man going through Toledo, Ohio in August. In August 2014, 287,500 inhabitants of Toledo, Ohio were unable to drink their own water due to insurmountable algae blooms in their watershed for days. 

Travel Animal Doctor

The algae bloom produces toxins that are deadly to humans. The algae also block the sunlight, causing death and stagnant growth to grasses in the water.

These grasses provide habitats to shellfish and fish, and are a food source for waterfowl. As the algae dies, it decomposes at the bottom of the basin and depletes the water of oxygen.

This oxygen is necessary for the survival of animals living in the environment, including eastern hellbenders, giant salamanders native to the Ohio watersheds.

As a fortunate extern at the Toledo Zoo, I stumbled upon a conservation project that should be well recognized for its efforts. This project helps hellbenders throughout Ohio, and utilizes their populations in watersheds as early indicators of polluted waterways.

The Toledo Zoo has successfully reared Eastern hellbenders, to be released into cleaned up watersheds around Ohio. There had been drastic decline of “Ohio’s largest salamander” since the 1980’s.

The Ohio Hellbender Partnership consists of Akron, Toledo, and Columbus Zoo as well as the Wilds, the ODNR, the US Fish and Wildlife Services, college researchers, and local soil and water conservation districts. 

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and ODNR have partnered up with the Toledo Zoo in an aim to increase the population of hellbenders by rearing a captive population for release into the wild, and working with partners to reduce agricultural runoff, planting trees and preventing bank erosion in the hellbenders’ environment.

Upon release, the hellbenders are implanted with “tracking” devices so that scientists can trace the movement of these slimy little fellers until the next spring. Some hellbenders will get microchips while other will get radio transmitters. The species will need to be caught up again in order to track with a microchip while the radio transmitters use an antenna to allow tracking of the animals without having to be caught back up. Utilization of this information will allow biologists to have more successful hellbender reintroductions in the Ohio watersheds in the future. According to Greg Lipps, Ohio’s hellbender expert, 189 individuals were successfully released in Ohio watersheds in 2014. The Ohio Division of Wildlife supports the conservation of the eastern Hellbender through the Toledo Zoo, Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Diversity Program, Columbus Zoo, and the state wildlife grant.

Scientists spend their livelihood studying and working with the population of these creatures. Why should they care about slippery slimy salamanders? Conservationists are my heroes because they spend tireless hours researching a seemingly insignificant animal that plays an extremely significant role in indicating the true health of our planet. 

The hellbenders are an integral part of Ohio’s natural heritage and are indicators of a healthy ecosystem within the waterway.   As an endangered species in Ohio, the hellbenders have an important niche in the Ohio watersheds. They have close ties to their environment, and are prey to snakes and turtles.

They are important keystone predators to crayfish and small fish, and also eat snails, fly nymphs and larvae, fish eggs and horsehair worms. The absence of these hellbenders correlates to a polluted and unhealthy waterway in which the predator-prey balance in the ecosystem will be off.

World in hands

Photo credit: sheilacraan / Foter / CC BY

Phosphorus and nitrogen from agricultural run-off, as well as warmer waters due to global warming and climate change, are blooming an abundance of blue-green algae that do not only affect hellbenders and creatures that live in the water.

Anyone who drinks water that contains microcystin is in danger. The blue-green algae produce this toxin and threaten the people who drink affected water.

My brother, wife and their child had to rely completely on bottled water for days. All the stores in the Toledo area quickly ran out of stock of bottled water, and many families had to drive up to an hour away to get water with inflated prices in order to stay adequately hydrated.

As a resolution for this problem, farm landscapes in the area are changing.

A two-stage ditch is a wastewater treatment plant for a farm so that flow of water slows down, run off does not pollute the streams, and erosion into waterways is reduced.

With the use of this ditch, farms can greatly reduce direct pollution into watersheds. Other attempts to reduce pollution in farms are to cover crops during the winter and use no-till methods. 

The eastern hellbenders are threatened of becoming extinct, and an early indicator of a much grander problem, of which people should be made aware because it makes a drastic impact to their lives.

Even if not for the poor dwindling hellbender population, take action to keep your waters clean for the lives of you and your families. Our adult bodies are made up of up to 60% water.

You have probably heard the adage that it is necessary to drink at least eight cups of water a day. To stay hydrated, according to the One Medical Group, the average adult male should drink 15 cups of water while the average female should drink 11 cups of water for proper maintenance of bodily function.  

Follow the water, before you have to drive an extra hour a day just to stay hydrated and bathe. While one day it may be an hour, this will quickly turn into 3 hours. If fresh water runs out, where will you and your family go next? Participate in World Health Day, and be aware of food and water safety.

Join the World Health Organization today and celebrate World Health Day.

Check out the World Health Organization World Health Day toolkit for more information. -Travel Animal Doctor

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