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Graduate finds her true calling in wildlife protection

Cincinnati-native Candace Carter followed several paths before finding the right one for her. Carter attended Minot State University after a stint in the U.S. Air Force. She studied in the pre-veterinary program and wrote for an underground newspaper. The inquisitive undergraduate was inspired by professors Ron Royer and Jonathan Wagner, although they taught in dissimilar fields.

"It was cool to have people excited about the discipline they were teaching," she said.

After Carter left MSU in 1988, she earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Iowa State University. For the next eight years, she maintained a private practice, but her head danced with bigger dreams. Growing up in rural Ohio, she regularly visited state parks with her parents and longed to become a park ranger. The time had come to follow her heart.

"I decided that I really liked doing wildlife things and being outdoors," she said. "Veterinary medicine wasnít really my passion, so I took a big step."

She joined the Bureau of Land Management, working to reintroduce the endangered black-footed ferret to a remote corner of Colorado. Carter later transferred to Florida to work as a biologist with the National Park Service at Canaveral National Seashore. The area is home to 14 federally listed threatened and endangered species - the second greatest number in the entire National Park Service.

Rescuing endangered sea turtles has been a large part of her work. At one point, the creatures were threatened by the chilly waters of Mosquito Lagoon.

"They became paralyzed and were just floating on the water," she said. "If they werenít rescued, they would eventually drown because they would get too sluggish to pick their heads up."

Carter and her colleagues rescued 2,000 distressed sea turtles. About 70 to 80 percent of them survived.

In another incident, Carter and her colleagues protected sea turtles from feral hogs that were invading their nests. The Discovery Channel covered the rescue in a program titled "Hogs Gone Wild."

"Iím kinda like a movie star," she said.

Over the years, Carter has worked to restore the equilibrium after both natural and man-made disasters. After three hurricanes rocked Florida in 2004, she helped restore the habitat for nesting sea turtles. After the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Carter was deployed to Mobile, Ala., to help relocate 15,000 hatchlings to Floridaís east coast.

When not protecting wildlife, Carter writes mystery stories featuring a park ranger sleuth. She works with a writing group, retains an agent and plans to publish a book within a year. Her long-term goal is to retire and write full time.

"It would be great to become the next Dan Brown," she said, giving a nod to the bestselling author of "The Da Vinci Code."

In the meantime, Carter is perfectly content doing her part in protecting earthís endangered species.

"I really like my job," she said.