By Dr. Dan Loper
Once a year, some of the biggest names in exotic animal medicine get together at a very exclusive event to share the newest research and ideas in their respective fields. This annual exotic veterinary conference is also known as “ExoticsCon”! The conference is made up of multiple veterinary specialty groups focused around exotics; this year’s attendees were the “Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians” (ARAV), the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (AEMV), and the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV).
This year the conference was held in beautiful San Antonio, Texas. It was a much less stressful conference for me compared to last year because I was not presenting any research. Last year the conference was held in Orlando, and I presented a nutritional study that I had done on bearded dragons. The short explanation of my research: I ran a lot of fancy tests on bearded dragon poop after they were fed a diet that could replace noisy, smelly crickets. The diet formulation proved to be a good substitute for crickets and is currently being sold throughout the country at places like PetSmart and PetCo (which is pretty cool when I think about it). Although it was exciting to do the research, the presentation in front of hundreds of exotics vets was a bit nerve racking. So it was nice to sit back and learn this time around.
The conference was just short of a week long, starting on Saturday and ending on Thursday. The weekend sessions were comprised of different committee and board meetings, and also with hands on laboratory and surgical skills practice (turtle shell repair labs were included this year!). There were also different round table discussions, which are basically an opportunity to talk face to face with researchers about a particular topic, but in a more informal setting than in a lecture hall. Topics such as “Reptile Potpourri, Bring Your Questions” were presented at the round tables, allowing a broad range of questions to be asked from new graduates learning the basics to the very seasoned veterinarians seeking specific protocols and details. Overall, the weekend sessions allow for lots of questions and first hand exchange of information. The rest of the week focuses more on presenting specific research.
The basic breakdown of Monday-Wednesday is as follows: 4 large auditoriums/lecture halls– one for each specialty (ARAV, AEMV, AAV), and one for veterinary technicians learning exotic techniques. All of the sessions run simultaneously so you have to choose if you are in the mood for reptiles, exotic mammals, or birds. Once you choose a session, individual research is presented in 20 minute increments–3 in a row, then a short break. You are allowed to sneak out and head to another session that catches your interest, but you may not find any available seating, and if you are noisy upon entering…well just don’t be noisy ;). These sessions go from 8am-5pm. There is also an exhibit hall where different companies are displaying products, cutting edge surgical instruments, selling the newest editions of exotics literature, and much more!
It’s not all just lectures and learning though! As you can imagine, this is quite a diverse group of people that enjoy learning about and caring for the less main stream animals. A large group of us heard rumor of the “Bat Bridge”, which is junction of highway near the San Antonio River Walk that is home to thousands of bats! We immediately began the search which ended up being a 45minute walk through town to an unmarked section of highway. The story we were told described bats that lived under the bridge and came out in droves right at sunset in search of food. We were lucky enough to arrive just as they were starting to trickle out from inside the bridge. It was a very interesting experience to watch the trickle turn into thousands of bats streaming down the underside of the bridge. They even seemed to have one way lanes! Check out the videos in these links:
On the last day, after the morning sessions were over, the whole group got to go to the San Antonio zoo for behind the scenes tours and dinner. The evening culminated with the annual “ExoticsCon” auction. Donated items are bid on and sold to raise money to fund some of the research that will be performed over the next year. Auction items ranged from turtle fossils to high tech oxygen incubators designed for small exotic animals. It’s really quite an exciting event!
These conferences are very important in furthering our medical knowledge on a wide variety of different species, thereby helping to save countless little lives. I look forward to this conference each year, and I am happy to announce that the President elect of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, Dr. Sue Horton, personally asked me to be a moderator at next year’s conference in Portland, Oregon. This means I do have to get up and speak in front of the entire group of exotics vets again, which is a bit nerve racking, but I think it’s worth it to be a part of something so important to our profession.