Jobs for veterinarians range from taking care of dogs and cats in a pet clinic to diagnosing and treating giraffes, harpy eagles, and anacondas in a zoo. Wildlife veterinarians specialize in exotic animal medicine, which presents a unique set of challenges within the veterinarian job description. These vets must become medical specialists in hundreds of different species, each with unique anatomy and responses to medicine, as well as understand normal verses abnormal behavior for each species.
Wild animals hide their injuries and illnesses for as long as possible as a survival instinct. Often, once it becomes apparent that a zoo or other wild animal is sick, it is an emergency situation. This makes the job of an exotic animal veterinarian much more challenging than working with pet dogs and cats. It is also a job that does not lack in excitement and many wildlife veterinarians get to develop novel medical treatments when new cases present themselves.
Wildlife Veterinarian Job Duties
Wild animal veterinarian job duties can include:
- Monitor behavior and eating habits of animals
- Develop meal plans for animals to meet the nutritional needs of each species
- Examine all animals in the facility yearly and as needed throughout the year, which can include physical exams, blood work, x-rays etc.
- Monitor and participate in breeding programs of endangered species
- Perform surgery as needed on animals, often in the animal’s housing
- Develop innovative treatment for exotic animals
- Work closely with animal care staff in all aspects of the animals’ care
An exotic animal veterinarian must work in the same conditions as a zookeeper. The job requires working in a veterinary hospital setting and in the animal’s exhibit or habitat. Animals need care no matter the weather or the day of the week. So working on the weekends, nights, and in snow, winds, and sleet can be expected. Exotic animal veterinarians are also at risk for injury from their patients and are exposed to zoonotic diseases on a daily basis.
Exotic Animal Veterinarian Careers Salary
Pay for an exotic animal veterinarian depends on where the vet works. Nonprofits do pay significantly less than private practice or government positions. And in general the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, “zoo and aquarium veterinarians usually earn somewhat less than other veterinarians do.” Most veterinarians, including those in private pet practice and wildlife veterinary medicine, earn between $60,000 to over $100,000 a year.
Education and Experience Requirements
To become a wildlife veterinarian requires obtaining a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from one of the 28 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine. Due to the limited number of veterinarian training colleges, competition is stiff. A bachelor’s degree in biology, animal sciences, or related science may not be required to apply for a veterinary degree program, but is highly recommended. Exceptional grades and experience in veterinary medicine will also help get into a veterinary program. To pursue a wildlife veterinary career, choose veterinarian degree programs that include large animal, equine, and exotic animals as part of the program.
Exotic animal veterinarians must be able to think and act quickly and calmly in response to the animal when working with wild animals. They also need to work well with the zookeepers and animal caregivers who often act as veterinary technicians and assist the vet in procedures. Past experience with exotic animals is required either through a college program and/or an internship is usually required for employment in this field.
Where to Find Exotic Animal Veterinarian Jobs
Most exotic animal veterinarians work in private practice taking care of exotic pets such as parrots, reptiles, and in the few states where it’s legal even pet lions and tigers. Zoos and some government agencies such as the USDA and fish and game departments are other places to find exotic animal veterinarian job postings. Some wildlife rehabilitation centers will also hire staff veterinarians.