Saving Creatures Great and Small

Greg Walth initially considered going into paleontology or entomology. Then, as a freshman at the University of Colorado, he did research on Ribeiroia ondatae, a parasite that causes frogs to grow extra limbs.

That experience sparked in him a passion for healing animals and saving endangered species, and put Walth on a new career path.

Now a third-year veterinary medicine student, Walth is studying to become a zoo and wildlife veterinarian, and Iowa State is providing him with opportunities to achieve that dream. He is a recipient of the Dr. J.W. Sexton Memorial Scholarship, which provides $2,000 for each of the last two years of his studies, as well as a Christian Petersen Veterinary Medicine Scholarship.

“Vet school is a significant undertaking financially. Iowa State is proactive, offering a variety of scholarship opportunities,” he says. “It’s wonderful to be recognized, and gratifying that the university and donors are willing to support me and my work.”

Last year, Walth landed a competitive internship at the Houston Zoo, which has a captive breeding colony of the highly-endangered Houston toad, an amphibian indigenous to the area. Walth did a retrospective study of medical records to better understand how a bacterium was impacting the toad. The virus typically presents itself as skin lesions, but Walth found a more prevalent symptom. X-rays showed the virus was literally dissolving the toad’s bones.

“It’s a valuable finding, and I’m excited to bring some of this information back to Iowa State,” Walth says.

He hopes to present his research to a zoological conference, and is doing a paper for journal submittal. He also shared his findings with radiologists in the College of Veterinary Medicine and is now working on a research project with Dr. Jacob Ewing, a resident in diagnostic imaging within the Department of Clinical Services.

It’s a major step forward for Walth, who views himself as a champion for the small, underappreciated creatures that are nevertheless incredibly valuable to ecosystems.

“A lot of conservation efforts focus on charismatic megafauna like tigers and polar bears. They’re important, but I like sticking up for the little guys like amphibians and reptiles that are a little less glamorous but just as important to save,” he says.

Walth credits his dad, Steve, with instilling in him a passionate interest in wildlife and biology. Steve Walth often took his three sons on hikes, camping trips and visits to national parks. When Walth made his first visit to Iowa State, his devoted dad joined him. They flew from Colorado Springs to Des Moines during a blizzard.

“It was quite an adventure” Walth remembers. “Dad was already dealing with heart disease, so I was really glad to have that time together.”

Steve Walth died in May 2015, several months prior to his son receiving the Sexton Scholarship.

“Receiving this scholarship was a wonderful reward in a time of hardship. I know my father would be extremely proud,” Walth says.