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No Typical Day For Auckland Zoo Veterinarians

No Typical Day For Auckland Zoo Veterinarians

24 April 2008


The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) says World Veterinary Day, Saturday 26 April, is a great opportunity to highlight the important wildlife work many of its members are involved in, like Richard Jakob-Hoff, the senior veterinarian at Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine (NZCCM).

Castrating a hippopotamus or medicating a lion may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it’s all in a day’s work for Richard at the $4.6 million state-of-the-art facility – the first national centre for conservation medicine in the world.

The centre has a public viewing gallery which offers visitors clear views into the centre's laboratory, large treatment room and operating theatre.

“We’ve become one of the zoo’s exhibits,” says Richard.

“One of the really nice things about our work is that we get to talk to people and explain what we’re doing and why.”

Veterinarians at the centre undertake research, diagnostic work and specialised teaching to promote native species conservation and national biosecurity. Richard says conservation medicine is all about taking a holistic view, looking at the connections between the health of people, animals and the environment.

“Working in a zoo means we can’t just look at an animal and determine what’s wrong. We need to examine the circumstances - their physical and social environment and even their contact with keepers, vets and other people.”

Conservation medicine came to the fore in the 1990s in the United States, with the emergence of several new diseases which passed from animals to humans.

“Over 75 percent of all new diseases affecting humans in the last 25 years originate from animals, including HIV/AIDS, avian influenza and West Nile Virus disease.

“The way the world is going, with more natural environments being eroded and contact between people and wild and domestic animals coming closer, we need to have a collaborative approach to human and animal health.”

The centre collaborates with ecologists, toxicologists, parasitologists, public health doctors, surgeons and other veterinarians. They also work closely with the Department of Conservation, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Biosecurity department, Landcare Research, Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and other research organisations including several universities here and overseas.

Richard says there is no such thing as a typical day for veterinarians at the NZCCM, although most days start with a team meeting to plot out the day and look at reports from keepers.

“We work very closely with all of the keepers. They know the animals really well so they’re often first to pick up changes in behaviour, like being off their food or away from the group.”

One case Richard is most proud of involved treating golden bell frog tadpoles.

“All of our work is interesting, but this was particularly so because the tadpoles are so tiny. We had a number of tadpoles dying before they turned into frogs, so we did some diagnostic work on them and found they had a protozoal gut infection,”he says.

“We managed to dilute an anti-protozoal drug enough to treat them orally from the tip of a very fine syringe needle. I was very happy when the treatment worked!”

Richard works with a team of five veterinarians, two full-time and four part-time on-call nurses, and five regular volunteers, who all work towards keeping the Centre in working order.

“We also have a lot of students who come and work with us, including undergraduate and post graduate nursing and veterinary students. Education is big on our agenda.

“We spend a lot of time interacting with the public teaching them about our work. What we talk about depends on the crowd, but people are always interested to know, for instance, how to get medications into an animal that can eat you.”

Stave off school holiday boredom and visit the zoo. On weekdays you’ll get to see the team at the Conservation Medicine Centre at work.

The purpose of World Veterinary Day, Saturday 26 April, is to recognise the work vets do, not just in the traditional areas of animal health and welfare, but also in other areas such as wildlife management and research, biosecurity, food hygiene, conservation, and education.


Background on World Veterinary Day

World Veterinary Day 2008
The World Veterinary Association encourages veterinarians to celebrate World Veterinary Day on Saturday, April 26. The theme for World Veterinary Day 2008 is “The diversity of the veterinary profession”.

World Veterinary Day is a chance to celebrate the profession’s diversity by showcasing its contribution to the health and welfare of both people and animals and indeed to the national and international economy, food security and development.

World Veterinary Association
The WVA is the internationally recognised representative of global veterinary medicine. It was founded in 1863 in Hamburg, Germany. Today the WVA is a federation of over 80 national veterinary medical associations, representing almost half a million veterinarians throughout the world. The association has regional, specialist, and observer veterinary association members.

The WVA has collaborative agreements with the OIE, FAO and WHO. To find out more, visit

The New Zealand Veterinary Association
A member of the World Veterinary Association, the NZVA was formed in 1923 as a not-for-profit organisation representing New Zealand veterinarians. It acts as a collective voice for its members and the veterinary profession. Membership is open to veterinarians, who pay an annual subscription. About 80% of New Zealand veterinarians belong to the Associaton.
The functions of the NZVA include:
* setting standards through policies, codes of practice and guidelines;
* providing continuing education through its education arm VetLearn;
* representing the interests of New Zealand veterinarians in the wider community
* providing services to assist veterinarians to live satisfying professional lives and contribute to their community.

Members are involved in a vast range of activities, ranging across public sector work (chiefly MAF Biosecurity New Zealand and NZ Food Safety Authority), clinical practice, pharmaceutical industry, research, teaching and wildlife. They play an important role in protecting humans from animal diseases, such as foot and mouth and avian influenza.

NZVA has 14 special interest branches to which its members can choose to belong, and 15 regional branches, and is governed by a Board.

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