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What I Learned About Zoos From My Placements


Ever been interested in all the weird and wonderful creatures?

From hoof stock to big cats to scaly reptilians and feathery birds there’s something for everyone at the zoo! Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to have had some experience with some of these beautiful animals up close and I can tell you what it’s like.

Having done work experience at zoo’s both in India and the UK, I have witnessed many differences between them both. Both experiences were equally as invaluable as each other and relayed the importance of having refined soft skills, clinical competence and effective zoo management.


Work experience in an Indian Zoo

Arriving on the first day of work experience can both be daunting and exhilarating but imagine this on top of the fact you’re in a country far away from home, where no one speaks the same language as you; this most definitely can shake the most confident. However, the moment I arrived I was warmly greeted from the head vet of the zoo. I was ushered in, to where I was given a summary of the plan of the day. Emergency intervention was prioritised first, followed by morning rounds, where animals who had fallen ill during the night or been harmed by another animal in their enclosure were treated.

A vivid first memory was when I saw a zoo golf cart parked in front of the vet hospital and horned us of its arrival. We jumped in and began our vet rounds around the park. From as soon as I sat down, the vet was very transparent about issues they faced in the establishment; the limits in government funding and the national issues with the overuse of antimicrobial drugs and subsequent resistance. Although these are some unfortunate realities, the zoo management was very passionate about their animals and incredibly resourceful in utilising their manpower and the equipment they had. This is where I observed an effective team dynamic amongst all members of the zoo team, working together to putting the health of the animal first.

Due to India being a tropical climate, parasitic disease contributed to a large amount of veterinary intervention. I observed screwworm infestation amongst many of the hoof stock and I was fortunate enough to have a more hands on role in helping with veterinary treatment, which I would stress is a major advantage of going abroad for work experience.


Work experience in an UK Zoo

Working in the UK taught me about the gold standard veterinary medical care and daily management of zoo animals. Here I witnessed how the animal’s cognitive and behavioural health was prioritised in the form of enrichment. The sea lions had different enrichment timetables every day, this echoed the need for a holistic care approach for dealing with animals in captivity.


Observing the vet’s work with the zookeepers to train the animals for veterinary care, I saw the need of multidisciplinary action in caring for these animals. Using positive reinforcement, the animals were trained to accept full body examinations or sometimes even treatment and procedures. This was so that the animals did not always have to be sedated or anaesthetised, removing any associated risks and further strengthening the vet-patient bond. Both the zookeepers and vets were thoroughly involved in the training process and this could have not been achieved without each necessary party.


Summary

Overall, I had great fun and an immersive learning experience in both environments and would equally recommend students with passion for exotics to travel abroad as getting experience in the UK can be limited.

But I think this provides a vital lesson that wherever you go with a positive attitude, great communication and an eagerness to learn, you can extract all the benefits from any placement, build great skills and overall gain amazing connections for your prospective animal-related careers.


Written by: Aaron Dharni

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