Animal Medicine Changes the World

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Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest blogs. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.

Perhaps the most pertinent connection lay people make with veterinarians is the fact that they save the lives of animals with medicine. The veterinary hospital at the San Diego Zoo is a shining star when it comes to this fact. As Dr. Meg Sutherland-Smith shared her experience, it is clear that science and devotion have combined to better the health of countless species of animals worldwide.

Almost anyone who has ever owned a pet dog or cat is familiar with the jobs of local veterinarians. Visiting animals are treated through the application of veterinary medicine, almost identical to the interaction between human doctors and their patients. The differences between a “dog and cat” vet and an exotic vet are the ways animals are diagnosed, treated, and handled. Think about it: a 10.5-foot tall African elephant could not be examined with the same equipment used on a tiny Chihuahua. Animals at the Zoo are also untamed. Dr. Sutherland-Smith has seen animals returning to the hospital become restless and stressed by remembering the scents of the hospital and the initial panicked feeling that accompanied it. For the protection of both the veterinarian and the animal, various approaches are used to calm the animal for a check-up.

Dr. Sutherland-Smith’s contributions to healthcare and research have helped animals globally. While she has worked with some of the rarest, most exotic species at the Zoo, she has also evaluated the health of animals that were either being transported to a different zoo or translocated to a different region of the world. Health assessments maintain the well-being of animals not only in captivity, but also in the wild. Dr. Sutherland-Smith has worked on reintroduction projects that attempt to rehabilitate wild animal populations all over the world. To create success, a vet must verify with tests that a disease will not be introduced to the environment upon an animal’s arrival. It also benefits animals across the globe if veterinarians everywhere are educated to their highest potential. Dr. Sutherland-Smith received the opportunity to embark on an expedition to China to work with giant pandas and Chinese vets. She trained these vets to raise their level of medical skill, which ultimately benefits the healthcare of animals in China. Using her techniques on giant pandas benefited their health as well.

If exotic animal vets could share information globally, animal medicine data would increase dramatically. This is already beginning to occur through the Zoological Information Management Systems (ZIMS) Project. Records of over 2.6 million animals are stored and exchanged for reference. By establishing this information-loaded database, zoological institutions everywhere can enhance practices, protect populations, and sustain conservation efforts. The vet’s objective is to preserve the lives of animals. The diversity of the animal kingdom will be maintained through the utilization of modern technology and research.

Rhianne, Conservation Team