To mark ‘National Vet Day’ on the 29th April, we asked you to send in your questions about ‘life of a zoo vet’, for our Veterinary Services Manager at Twycross Zoo; Matyas Liptovszky.
Thank you to all of you that sent in your questions, they were very interesting indeed, and got Mat really thinking!
Below are Mat’s answers to your questions. But first, a little more about Mat;
- Doctor of Veterinary Medicine,
- MSc Wildlife Management,
- Postgraduate diploma in exotic animal medicine,
- MSc Science Communication,
- European Specialist of Zoological Medicine (Zoo Health Management)
NUMBER OF YEARS IN PROFESSION: 12
NUMBER OF YEARS AT TWYCROSS ZOO: 1
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
“What is your favourite animal and why?”
There are some many species, and all of them are so interesting, it would be really hard to name only one as a favourite. All species are very interesting and if we start to study them, they all can become favourite ones easily!
There are, however some animals difficult to treat. Mostly those refusing cooperation, not taking medications, and such. But we need to work around these obstacles and our great keepers are a huge help in this!
But, I really have a soft spot for aardvarks, lemurs, or rhinos… just to name a few. And, I like to work with very large and really tiny species. They are always a challenge, like anaesthesia in a rhino, or surgery in a small bird.
“What type of animals does a typical zoo vet work with?”
Here at Twycross Zoo we have about 150 different kinds of animals and most of them need veterinary care from time to time.
We do our best for help anything from mouse to elephant (literally), and everything in between.
“How does one become a Zoo Vet; what qualifications are needed?”
You need to study hard to get into a vet school; they are usually one of the most competitive university degrees.
Most of them require a good understanding of biology and chemistry, but math and physics are also useful.
The university training takes 5-6 years, and at the end you can graduate as a general vet, without any specialisation.
That said, you might need a further 4-5 years of continuous training to have all the skills and expertise to specialise in a narrower field, like zoo animal medicine.
However you never stop learning, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons expect all vets to have further training throughout their careers. This is called CPD (continuous professional development) but that is just a fancy name of tens, or hundreds, of hours of studying every single year after graduation.
“Hello I am studying for my A levels at the moment in the hope to becoming a vet in the future. I have over 1000 hours of animal voluntary work but mainly with dogs, horses, rabbits and guinea pigs. Could you advise me of any other animal based work experience I could do that will look good on University applications and CV’s and help me in the future? I am finding it very difficult to get anything at present.”
Hands on experience with domestic animals is very important, even if you would like to work with wild animals.
As you get closer to your goal, you will find more options regarding working with wild animals. Most vet schools nowadays incorporate zoo/wild animal medicine into their curriculum, including their practical training.
Seeing practice in zoos is difficult, but not impossible, and you can also consider volunteering abroad in wildlife field projects.
“What sort of veterinary care do the animals at Twycross Zoo require?”
Most of our work is preventative. We carry out regular health checks, which are very similar to those used in human medicine. These include x-rays, blood sampling, ultrasound examination, etc.
Some animals need annual vaccinations and we regularly take poo samples to check for parasites.
We also experience some age related conditions in our elderly patients, so we devote part of our time to help them overcome on these.
“What does a typical day, or week job involve for a zoo vet?”
Our days start with a staff meeting, to review our daily to do list and discuss clinical cases.
Twice a week we have planned veterinary procedures, including annual health check examinations, and other non-urgent surgical or medical cases.
Documentation of our daily work is very important and we spend quite a lot of time on this, mostly in the afternoons.
We also have different self-training sessions, including clinical rounds, review of the current scientific literature and consultation with other specialists.
On weekends there is always a vet on call to deal with any urgent cases.
“What are the main challenges of being a zoo vet?”
There are more than 6000 different animal species in zoos worldwide. You can imagine the variety of anatomy, behaviour, feeding habits, not to mention different medical conditions of them. This is one of the biggest challenges.
“How is it possible to look after so many different animals?”
To ensure the best health of our wild animals we have a great team of keepers, vets and other professionals; Twycross Zoo has three vets and a vet nurse in its core vet team.
We also have an animal record registrar, who helps with anything record related, including health records, animal movements and diets.
We hardly ever work on our own; it is the team work, what makes a good zoo!
“Why did you decide to become a zoo vet?”
Since I can remember my ‘career goal’ was always to work with wild animals.
When I was in the 4th year of the vet school I had the chance to spend a month seeing practice in a local zoo. I’ve written my thesis there and was lucky enough to continue working as a full time zoo vet just after graduating.
“What do you most enjoy about your job?”
Variety! From medicine to anaesthesia, neonatology to surgery, every day offer different challenges.
Also the range of our patients is immense, from tiny creatures to real giants.
We are also involved in conservation and research projects outside of the zoo.
“How many times have you been bitten?”
I’ve never had any serious injury caused by a wild animal.
Some minor scratches and bites by domestic ones though, but I’ve stopped counting.
“If you could pick one animal to join Twycross Zoo, which would you pick?
That’s a very difficult question, probably I would choose a different one every day!
It’s fascinating to see the huge variety of species, though if I could only pick one – that would be aardvarks right now.
“If you discovered a new species of animal would you name it after yourself?
No. You are not allowed to name a species after yourself and it wouldn’t be professional either.
Actually I was involved in the discovery of a new butterfly species, but it was named by the taxonomists, not by me.
“Which part of your job are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of the difference zoos can make for conservation and to help better understand wildlife through high quality research.
Also, I’m really proud of the quality of care we offer here at Twycross Zoo to our animals.
“If you could bring back one extinct animal from history, what would you choose?
I wish I could!
We are losing species every single day, and this is not history, it is still happening.
It would be great to bring back an extinct animal like the Tasmanian tiger, but I’m much keener to prevent further animals disappearing.
Thank you for all your questions, it’s great that so many of you are interested in the veterinary side of things at Twycross Zoo.
I’d like to say a big thank you to the team here; it’s not just me, it a team effort; the Veterinary team here at Twycross Zoo, students of the University of Nottingham Vet School that help, also the specialists who regularly come in and help with procedures, training and support. It’s all these dedicated people that enable us to treat and care so well for all the amazing animals here at Twycross Zoo.
Thank you again for your interest.
Matyas Liptovszky, Veterinary Services Manager, and the whole Veterinary Team, at Twycross Zoo
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