Zoo animal medicine is a very unique specialty in veterinary medicine. Unlike other veterinary specialists who focus on a body system (e.g. the eye or skin) or a species of animal (e.g. horses, cats, food animals, etc), these animal doctors seem to “focus” on everything. They care for the hundreds of different animal species that reside in a typical zoo and must have an understanding of all of them.
It is the wide variety of patients that makes a zoo veterinarian’s practice unique. Their days are never routine. They could treat lameness in a lion in the morning and be called out to visit a kangaroo with an abscess that same day. Their patients are also not used to direct human contact and can often be dangerous. So to lessen the stress on their patients and provide a safe environment for everyone, zoo veterinarians must often sedate the animals before they can care for them. Also, the large size of some patients means that many times sedation and treatment will occur away from the hospital and in the animals’ housing area.
Jacksonville Zoo and GardensA zoo veterinarian also practices in a very unique environment. Unlike the majority of veterinarians who see their patients in the exam room and then release them to the client’s care, a zoo veterinarian’s patients are always close by. This gives the zoo veterinarian the opportunity to follow up with a patient by simply by walking through the park and visiting the area where the animal is housed.
Zoo veterinarians also have a strong animal-care partner in the park. The zoo keepers work with the animals under their care and are very familiar with their normal behavior. This gives the zoo veterinarian “extra eyes and ears” when it comes to detecting the early stages of illness in the animals in the facility. Zoo keepers are also available to observe the animals after treatment and make certain that dietary instructions are followed and prescribed medications are taken.
As Dr. Nick Kapustin will tell you “It seems I have always wanted to be a veterinarian. I still have memories of being very small and fascinated by the monkey island at the zoo nearby my home.” Today, as the Senior Veterinarian at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, that fascination still remains. “I like and appreciate wildlife of all types. The frogs and lorikeets for which I’ve cared for are as exciting and important to me as the elephants and dolphins I’ve worked with in my career. Even the walking sticks are fascinating. We have walking sticks here at the Jacksonville Zoo and working with insects is really different and something I also enjoy as a zoo veterinarian.”
“As a zoo veterinarian you have to be creative.”
“As a zoo veterinarian you have to be creative.” Dr Adrienne Atkins, the Jacksonville Zoo’s veterinarian says. “Most of the time, we can’t get hands-on with the animals so we have to get creative in ways that we can treat them. We have to find ways to figure out what’s wrong with them while making sure they are both safe and comfortable. It is the most challenging and fun part about being a zoo veterinarian.”
When asked for her advice for aspiring veterinarians, Dr. Atkins says “Feed that passion. Do whatever you can to interact with animals. Volunteer. Get all the experience you can. ” She adds “But you must also be focused on learning. As you go through school, make certain you learn something new every day. The learning process never ends. ”
In this video, you’ll go behind the scenes and follow Drs. Kapustin and Atkins as they care for the animals at the Jacksonville Zoo. You’ll see them as they examine and treat animals in the hospital and around the zoological park. You'll also get a glimpse of the wide variety of patients a zoo veterinarian encounters every day.