From a fish to an elephant, a bird to a reptile, zoo veterinarians have come a long way in their understanding of the treatment of wild animals. With the threat of endangerment of many animals, zoo veterinarians take preventative measures to ensure that wildlife populations remain protected from the threat of disease and extinction. A day in the life of a zoo veterinarian is unpredictable and full of surprises.
Capture By Lasso
Before the 1970s, to treat an injured zoo animal, a veterinarian needed the skills of a cowboy to lasso and capture the animal. The capture method, particularly on lions and other large zoo animals, made it difficult for veterinarians to take x-rays or perform diagnostic tests. Since that time, veterinarians have discovered the morphine dart gun for a faster capture.
It took years for veterinarians to realize that not all animals are equal, and veterinarians used the same treatments that worked for dogs and cats on bears, chimpanzees, antelopes and other exotic zoo animals. However, the medication and equipment didn't always work on wild animals in the same way they did on the domestic animals veterinarians were used to. Realizing that it would be easier and safer to perform a surgery on a wild animal that was sufficiently anesthetized with the right dosage, veterinarians developed more species-specific dosages and equipment.
No Ordinary Rounds
A typical daily round of a zoo veterinarian might involve checking on an artificially-inseminated elephant, the healing skin abrasions of a giant anteater and anesthetizing a Burmese python. The veterinarian makes daily rounds to detect and prevent health problems from developing to the point of endangering a species. At the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., veterinarians oversee the health of 2,000 animals from approximately 400 species.
An education in veterinary medicine specializing in wildlife can provide opportunities for travel, working in zoos in the Middle East, Sumatra and all over the world to improve their techniques for treatments. A veterinarian might have the opportunity to study the behavior of rare cats of Russia and threats to their existence. The opportunity to treat a sick tiger, leopard, walrus, giraffe or hippo in their own country provides exotic excitement and the chance to work with colleagues and handlers who know their native animals well. However, veterinarians also face the difficulty of practicing medicine and surgery with limited equipment and facilities.