One of the reasons why I love veterinary medicine is there is no end to the possibilities. Love pulling things apart and putting them back together? Become an orthopedic surgeon! Do you excel at comforting people at the worst moments, and helping them through hardship? Become a hospice veterinarian! Do you want to work a 9-5 job and still work with animals? Well… you might get that in government or industry… Maybe… Do you love solving puzzles with only half the pieces, and cutting your own pieces out of cardboard? Adapting puzzle pieces from other puzzles, and ensuring that each puzzle is happy and fulfilled? You should work in exotics!
I’m not actually exaggerating much. The MU CVM Behavior Club toured a little behind the scenes at the Saint Louis zoo, and it was exciting and eye-opening to see how resourceful exotic veterinarians are. Most research in medicine is centered around humans (that’s the best way to get funding, and funding buys equipment and labor), and what research is done specifically for animals mostly focuses on companion animals – again, that’s where the money is. The amazing thing about vet med is that a lot of things (but not everything!) crosses species barriers, and research from cats can sometimes be adapted to dogs or cattle – this is the concept behind One Health, which I have mentioned before and probably will again. But research on how best to sedate a silverback gorilla for a necessary surgery? Not high on the priority list for funding. That’s where exotics veterinarians come in – they are knowledgeable about the types of species that a small or large animal clinician probably didn’t even learn about in school (yes, there are some species that don’t fit in the curriculum!), and have been pursuing continuing education on exotics species since first year of vet school – or before. They are adept at adapting medicine to fit each species’ particular needs, and they team up with behaviorists, pathologists, researchers, and zookeepers to make sure each animal is as happy and healthy as they can be.
Research on behaviors of different species is a critical component of what zoos do. Balancing the needs of each animal with funds and space available is essential for maintaining the mental, social, and physical health of each animal in the zoo’s care. Construction of enclosures is performed with the safety of animals and humans in mind, and is undertaken with the natural habitat of the animal in mind. Enrichment is utilized to engage each animal’s mind and keep them active; in some cases, it might even mimic the way an animal would have to forage for food in the wild. No matter what your opinion on zoos is, the veterinarians, behaviorists, zookeepers, and everyone in between involved in the care and keeping of these animals is dedicated to keeping them healthy and happy.