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Springville • Isaac Bott's work day always starts the same way.
He walks out the back door of his Springville veterinary clinic, collects a few scoops of feed from a small garage and goes to feed his reindeer Sven and Twinks. There is also a new mouth to feed, as Twinks has given birth to a small, male calf.
Bott said the reindeer are his pets and Sven, with his large set of antlers, is also the mascot for his veterinary practice Mountain West Animal Hospital. But the reindeer are also a professional project of his, as he specializes in reindeer reproductive services.
"People are always intrigued," when he tells them about his work with reindeer reproduction, Bott said.
"What drives me is the comparative medicine; that's what makes my brain move," he said.
During the day he works on dogs and cats to pay the bills, but his interest lies in solving complicated medical problems. Bott said he loves getting calls from people all over the world who have a problem that he might be able to help solve. He only signs on to a project if it is something different and something that will be challenging.
"Something that nobody has been able to figure out, I love taking on that challenge," he said.
One of those problems, it turns out, is the challenge of reindeer reproduction. Bott explained that male reindeer who haven't been castrated are some of the meanest animals in the world when they're in the mating season.
"They will kill you," Bott said.
So reindeer owners generally keep only castrated males, but that means their females must be artificially inseminated in order for their herd to grow. Collecting semen also proves a challenge, as male reindeer are incredibly sensitive to anesthesia. Bott said attempts to sedate male reindeer in the rut almost always kills them.
Once there is success in collecting reindeer semen, due to its own biological makeup it tends to be very difficult to freeze, ship and thaw, so herds end up being inbred. That is causing all sorts of genetic problems for herds around the world.
Through trial and error, Bott has developed a process for collection, freezing and administering reindeer semen that has produced consistently successful results. Today he travels all over the world artificially inseminating reindeer. He also works on other animals, including bighorn sheep, elk and water buffalo.
Bott started working the world of animal reproduction services after training at Washington State University under a veterinarian who was a pioneer in the field. After buying the practice in Springville in 2014, he went about acquiring a few reindeer.
Bott said he was very selective in the individuals he chose. He selected Sven, his male, because of his uncommonly calm demeanor.
"There's not a reindeer that I've ever met like Sven," Bott said. "He's completely tame. ... He's a reindeer we can trust."
For his female reindeer, Bott wanted an individual that would provide a good challenge for his research into reindeer reproduction issues. Twinks was an older reindeer, now 11, who had a history of late-term abortions meaning a spontaneous termination of the fetus, not one induced intentionally.
Bott said there was no published information on abortion in reindeer, especially in regard to a lack of progesterone, one of the hormones necessary to sustain a pregnancy.
"It really has never been described in species like reindeer," Bott said. "This was the first time I was able to get a reindeer and actually run these progesterone tests and see where we were at."
If he could get Twinks to carry to a full term, it would provide a really challenging case on which he could work. Other jobs working with reindeer who are having reproduction trouble would be comparatively easier.
The efforts paid off, and Twinks recently gave birth to a healthy male calf. Bott is now in the process of writing up his findings so he can publish a paper on it.
While his work on reindeer reproduction has become a valuable part of his business, the work has always been about the reward of meeting a challenge when it presents itself.
"You don't make that much money, and that's not at all what drives me to work on these projects. It's doing something that's difficult," Bott said.
"There's a tremendous amount of self-satisfaction that comes when you are successful at something."