Livestock, wildlife health focus of University of Wyoming position

Kerry Sondgeroth

The Riverbend Endowed Professor of Wildlife-Livestock Health position at the University of Wyoming has the potential to have an immense benefit on the state’s livestock and wildlife, said the faculty member appointed to the position.

Kerry Sondgeroth, an associate professor and a veterinary bacteriologist in the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory, accepted the position this month. She said she hopes the position will build a solid reputation at UW for wildlife-livestock health and bring awareness to the diseases being studied. The position is a five-year appointment.

“I hope this is the beginning of great things to come, with benefits to other researchers, students and, of course, our livestock and wildlife health in the state of Wyoming,” said Sondgeroth, who joined the Department of Veterinary Sciences in 2014.

Tim Mellon donated the Riverbend Ranch west of Laramie to the UW Foundation in 2011, with proceeds of its eventual sale earmarked to establish the position in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Sondgeroth said the position can be a middle ground to gain understanding of certain disease in order to protect the health of wildlife, livestock and humans.

There is strength in a team approach and understanding that all voices matter, she said.

“Change is always difficult, but in working together, I think we can establish better relationships between researchers and stakeholders,” Sondgeroth said. “My hope is that this position becomes one that is respected by both livestock and wildlife interest groups as an expert in disease, not favoring one stakeholder group over another.”

Sondgeroth received her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Colorado State University in 2006 and was a post-DVM graduate student from 2006-13 at Washington State University, in Pullman, Wash., receiving her Ph.D. in veterinary science in 2013.  She grew up in Wyoming and is an alumni of Jackson Hole High School.

Sondgeroth said her training and position as the only veterinary bacteriologist in Wyoming provides exposure to many bacterial diseases across the state of interest to livestock producers and wildlife interest groups.

“It has given me the opportunity to collaborate with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as well as cattle and sheep producers across the state,” she said. “I have learned what diseases are important to the state and have worked hard to improve the diagnostic testing for bacteria at the WSVL.”

She said the position will:

*  Help provide hands-on research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students,

* Train graduate students on diseases that affect both livestock and wildlife using new technology to answer novel research questions, and

* Connect/build collaborations with other researchers at UW, across the country and internationally who are interested in wildlife/livestock health.

Graduate and undergraduate research student support is of particular interest to Sondgeroth.

“This is really important to me, as funding in wildlife/livestock research is difficult to find, but the questions we are trying to answer are really important,” said Sondgeroth.

The Riverbend endowment is funding four pilot projects, said Jonathan Fox, head of the Department of Veterinary Sciences.

“The total funded amount from the Riverbend fund equates to about $190,000 per year for the first two years,” he said. “After that, we should have funds for another request for proposals.”

The researcher (all in the Department of Veterinary Sciences) and project are:

Assistant professor Berit Bangoura – “Parasitic nematode prevalence and transmission dynamics at the Wyoming wildlife-livestock interface with special respect to anthelmintic drug resistance distribution in ruminants”

Assistant professor Jennifer Malmberg – “Whole genome characterization of Mycoplasma bovis in wildlife and livestock”

Associate professor Brant Schumaker – “Bioeconomic analysis of management options for chronic wasting disease and brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area”

Sondgeroth – “Characterization of bacteria that cause disease in livestock and bighorn sheep”

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