Many kids dream about becoming a vet, and as that dream comes to fruition many of us want to work in the zoo or wildlife fields. Unfortunately these fields are highly competitive and there aren't as many jobs, once someone obtains a job in the field they tend to stick around. So many of us budding veterinarians resign ourselves to the fact we will likely never be wildlife or zoo vets, and get into normal small animal practices.
So what is it REALLY like being a wildlife vet?
Well its not everything I expected. I was excited by the fact I wouldn't be working with clients, and there for wouldn't necessarily have a budget to work with in. But you still do have to work with in your clinics budget, and being a non for profit we do take that into account. In saying that, we are free to make decisions on behalf of the animal and do the treatment we feel is best.
And although you don't work with clients you do work with the government, rescuers, rehabilitators, volunteers and members of the public. They too want regular updates and there are some delicate politics involved when working with so many different groups. Everyone you work with will also be very passionate, which means tempers can flare easily.
Another pitfall to wildlife medicine is most the animals you see are already very sick, or have had severe trauma. This means around 50-70% of what you see will die or be euthanaised. Its hard a fact, and some days I really feel like Dr Death. But then the times you do save them and see them released back into the wild are all the more special.
So what about the perks! I love Australia's native wildlife. We have such an abundance of unique species so you never get bored. We also get to follow a case from the beginning all the way through to full recovery, where as domestic animals are often sent home for the recovery period.
We also get to be pioneers in our field. There is still so much we don't know about many species of wild animals. Although this makes working with them tricky because no textbook will tell you what medicine to give or explain a surgical technique, it also means you are paving the way for future veterinarians. This makes participating in research a fundamental part of your job.
SO as a whole I LOVE being a wildlife vet, but am lucky to have a job where I can still work with domestic animals. Being a wildlife vet is very rewarding and helps you realize veterinarians aren't just there to 'fix' animals, we can also help save entire species and the environment with our skills.
TIPS ON BECOMING A WILDLIFE VET
1 - I would recommend completing two years in a general small animal clinic before specializing. If you can spey, castrate, remove a foreign body and perform a lumpectomy on a dog or cat there is a good chance you will be able to do these same things in a lemur, leopard or a bear! Although the anatomy may differ getting your basic anaesthesia, surgery and medicine skills down pat in a busy small animal clinic will set you up with the fundamentals to be a great wildlife vet.
2 - STUDY and RESEARCH! Before getting into the field read regular journal articles, text books and browse the web for information on the species you would like to work with.
3 -Volunteer. Doing volunteer work with in a zoo, wildlife establishment or overseas will help give you valuable experience in the field, making you far more employable. I have volunteered at a few places now, and completed placement with in zoo's and exotic hospitals. This really helped me get my current job at the wildlife hospital in Adelaide. Check out the "Take Action" section of the website for information on volunteering overseas.
4 - Be flexible! Since there are so few jobs in zoo and wildlife medicine you need to be flexible. This may mean moving to Borneo for 6 months to be an orangutan vet, or working in a small animal practice that happens to see wildlife for free, but being flexible and open to new opportunities will help open pathways.
5 - Socialise. Being social with other zoo or wildlife vets will help you make friends and network. Not all jobs are advertised, and some people get work through socializing not a resume. Attend annual zoo and wildlife conferences, join forums and follow other vets on social media.
Check out my facebook page - Vet Tails - for an abundance of photos of the wildlife i have worked with! If you have any questions please comment below and I'll answer as best I can.