Q&A with Dr. Eric Baitchman: Through a vet’s eyes

Dr. Eric Baitchman

Dr. Eric Baitchman of Zoo New England treats a frog for the deadly chytrid fungus. (Photo courtesy of Zoo New England)

Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England director of Veterinary Services, is the lead veterinarian for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. We spent some time talking to Dr. Baitchman about his interest in amphibians and what he has learned from his participation in this vital conservation project. Here’s what he told us:

When did you first develop an interest in amphibians? What sparked this interest?

I can’t really say when or what it was that sparked my interest in amphibians. I’ve always been drawn to their diversity of shape, colors and habits, as well as to the types of environments that amphibians usually occupy. Amphibian life histories are fascinating as well, spending the first part of their lives in the water as tadpoles, undergoing metamorphosis, and then growing in to terrestrial adults–no other vertebrate undergoes such dramatic changes in their life cycle.

What has been the most rewarding aspect about your participation in the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project?

The work with the rescue project is truthfully a culmination of every reason I became a veterinarian in the first place. It is most rewarding to me to apply my skills as a veterinarian to make a meaningful impact on the conservation of entire species. The individual animals we care for in the rescue project represent what may amount to the last survivors for each of their species, entrusted in our care to assure their continued existence on this planet. I can’t imagine how anyone could find more reward from their work than that!

Has your work in Panama affected your veterinary approach at Zoo New England?

I have learned a great deal about amphibian medicine and their normal physiology through my work in Panama. Virtually everything I’ve learned there, I’ve been able to apply at home when caring for the amphibians in our own collection at Zoo New England, as well as advising other zoos on amphibian medicine through my role as an amphibian veterinary advisor for institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

If there is one thing that people should know about amphibians, what is it?

Unfortunately, people should know the danger amphibians are in all over the world. Amphibians everywhere are declining at alarming rates–so much so, that not since the extinction of the dinosaurs has there been this great a loss of species from a single taxon of animals.

What are simple things that people can do to help improve the lives of amphibians in the wild, including those in their own backyard?

There are many ways that you can make a difference and help improve the lives of amphibians. Here are some simple ways that everyone can help: recycle to keep waterways clean; use biodegradable and other “green” cleaning products to keep phosphates and other chemicals out of the water; keep chemicals out of water run-off by not fertilizing your grass or using pesticides; be mindful of your water use, especially in the summer when there is a higher risk of droughts (shallow water is more concentrated in pollutants than free-running water); and don’t put anything down a storm drain as it usually drains directly to a river or pond.

Brooke Wardrop, Zoo New England