Our charity’s vet team work closely with the keepers and conservationists to care for the animals at Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, as well as support conservation projects around the world. From sun bears in Asia, to wildcats in the Cairngorms and seabirds on Gough Island in the mid-Atlantic, their expertise is a vital part of the work we do.
We have one of the UK’s most highly qualified in-house veterinary services and training the next generation of zoo vets is a really important part of the teams’ day-to-day work. At the end of Vet Nurse Awareness Month in May, we asked our followers to send the team questions and in this blog our vet nurses Donna and Hannah answered them for you!
My route into zoo veterinary nursing started in college, where I completed an animal management diploma. During this time, I was lucky enough to get the chance to work as a keeper with zoological species. Once I finished my diploma I went to university where I completed my BSc Hons in veterinary nursing and qualified as Registered Veterinary Nurse in 2017. I was always interested in nursing exotic and zoo species and took every opportunity to work with them in practise. I then decided to do an extra City and Guilds qualification which was the advanced programme in veterinary nursing of avian, reptile, amphibian, wildlife, small mammal and zoo animals. I carried on working in private practice, specifically with exotic and zoo species, until I came to work at Edinburgh Zoo in 2020.
My route into zoo veterinary nursing was more a chance of luck. I was working at the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies (RDSVS) within the exotics and wildlife department and took the opportunity to volunteer on my days off to help the veterinary surgeons when they visited the zoo. When I decided to leave RDSVS 15 years ago I was fortunate enough to be offered a job within RZSS as their first in house veterinary nurse. I completed my City and Guilds in exotics when the course first started and qualified as a Veterinary Nurse in 1997.
Your questions answered:
How did you help Gloria the Pygmy hippo have her baby, Amara?
(From Tony and Ben on Twitter)
The first step was to ensure our female hippo Gloria was in good health so she had the best chance of a successful pregnancy. The keepers were able to train Gloria to allow the vets to perform an ultrasound scan early in the pregnancy so we could assess the health of the baby. This also allowed us to see how far along in the pregnancy she was, so we could plan a rough due day and prepare for the birth. We made sure we had all the necessary equipment ready for any situation that may occur, such as bottles and milk formulas. Thankfully, we didn’t need to help Gloria during the birth although we were on standby if needed. After the birth we did a quick health check on Gloria and Amara to make sure they were both doing well. Gloria has been an amazing mum and is looking after little Amara perfectly.
How do I become a zoo vet, particularly one specialising in big cats?
(From Katie, Sarah Jane and Nicki on Facebook)
Zoo veterinarians work with a huge range of different animals, including big cats! Although, they actually start with the same training other vets go through to work with domestic animals. The first step is to study hard at school and get the grades needed to get into university to study veterinary medicine. You can find out more about becoming a veterinary surgeon, on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website.
After graduating, there are lots of ways to gain additional training in the zoological medicine field. At Edinburgh Zoo, we run European College of Zoological Medicine training programs for qualified vets to become specialists in zoo health management. More information on specialising in zoological medicine can be found on the European College of Zoological Medicine website.
Before getting into vet school, it’s always good to get as much animal experience as possible, working with as many different species as you can. Volunteering or undertaking work experience at zoos and animal sanctuaries can be a great way to get experience and learn about different species.
How do I become a veterinary nurse?
(From Dale and Mindy on Facebook)
In the UK there are two main routes:
- A university degree in veterinary nursing. This is an undergraduate BSc Hons in veterinary nursing degree. This usually takes three to four years to complete and consists of periods of University teaching and practical work in a veterinary practice.
- A college course. There are several different pathways depending on the courses offered by the college and these can take two to three years to complete. This can entail one day or intermittent placements at college and in a veterinary practice covering all of the practical work you would need for your exams.
It is common to be asked that you have at least two weeks work experience in a veterinary practice before applying, along with any other animal experience you can get.
In other countries, like the USA, veterinary nurses are referred to as veterinary technicians and different routes are available depending on the college or university providing the course.