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University of Missouri

Into the Wild

MU alumna and Fulbright Scholar takes a walk on the wild side.

woman posing with a bear

Andrea Miller performed surgery on this bear in April 2012 in western Sweden. Photo by Alina Evans.

A blanket of snow and ice covers the floor of Andrea Miller’s operating room. It’s minus 10 degrees Celsius — she can’t remember the Fahrenheit equivalent anymore — and her knees are numb from resting on them for the past 30 minutes. Her hands would be freezing if they weren’t surgically inserting a temperature logger into the warm abdomen of a sedated brown bear. Miller’s operating room is atypical; this wildlife veterinarian plies her profession in the forests of Scandinavia.

Miller, BS ’05, DVM ’09, of Bonnots Mill, Mo., recently completed a yearlong fellowship as a Fulbright Scholar at Hedmark University College in Evenstad, Norway. While there, she conducted research on bears, investigating how humans and hunting dogs affect the bears’ stress level. Researchers track the bears’ temperature (as an indication of stress) to look for changes related to instances when the bear was approached. The results could influence brown bear management practices in Scandinavia. Miller also developed her skills in field anesthesia on wolves, moose and roe deer, and started a master’s in applied ecology.

Recently, she moved to Uppsala, Sweden, to begin her doctorate at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Instead of studying 400-pound bears, she’s focusing on microscopic parasites that in rare cases cause a cancer-like disease in the liver of humans. But her work still takes her into the field. She was in southern Sweden to capture voles that host the parasite, then in eastern Sweden for a conference, and now she’s in northern Sweden dissecting voles to better understand the epidemiology of the parasite and the rodent’s role in the parasite’s life cycle.

“To understand this parasite’s life cycle, we have to understand how its first host, the vole, lives in its environment and how voles interact with the second host in the cycle, the fox. That’s ecology,” Miller says. “When it comes to the parasite within the vole and communicating to the public [the health concerns], that’s vet related. I like that combination.”