Date: 23 Apr 2020
Belfast Zoo Veterinarian, Michael Griffith, oversees the health care of the 120 species that call the zoo home.
Here, Michael discusses what it takes to become a vet and what the average day en'tails'!
1. What made you decide to become a Zoo Veterinarian?
"I have always been very interested and involved in conservation and animals, so a career with wild animals was always appealing. Zoo veterinarian jobs are very rare so I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to become Belfast Zoo Vet, through part of the team at Jubilee Veterinary Centre."
2. What skills and training are required for your job?
"You obviously have to have a Veterinary Degree but then there are also a lot of extra courses and a huge amount of extra private study required to be able to do the job. One of the main requirements is patience as zoo animals rarely come and present to the vet when required!"
3. What is an average day like as Belfast Zoo’s veterinarian?
"There is probably a lot more admin than people would expect! On arrival at the zoo I would read the keeper sheets to see if they have listed any animals to be seen for routine checks. I would also speak to the Duty Officer to see what jobs they may have for me. There may also be animals that I or one of the other vets have listed as requiring rechecks or planned procedures such as vaccinations or routine health tests. A lot of these tests are required before animals are moved as part of national or global breeding programs. After any clinical work is finished there is always lots of paperwork to do. Due to the relatively small number of any species that each zoo holds it is very important that we all share information to increase our knowledge of what is ‘normal’ for all species, hence we have plenty of surveys to complete."
4. What has been a highlight of the job so far?
"Successfully treating a very sick baby, Tapir, many years ago was very satisfying - especially as at that time there were only four born in that year worldwide outside of Malaysia."
5. What advice would you give someone who wants to become a Zoo Veterinarian?
"I would recommend that anyone wanting to be a zoo veterinarian gets a lot of experience in mixed veterinary practice. Zoo vets see a relatively small number of individual cases but they each take a longer time to do. If you haven’t been able to build up a large volume of experience in a wide variety of conditions then you will struggle as a zoo vet. I would also really recommend that you learn to type!"
6. Do you have a favourite animal at Belfast Zoo?
"I frequently get asked if I have a favourite animal but it is more a case that you get fond of animals that you are working a lot with, but that varies! One month you may be busy with gorillas, next with penguins. What is really nice is to be able (very occasionally) to just spend some quiet time watching some of the animals relaxing and enjoying themselves, rather than having to treat them. Our red squirrels are a bit of a favourite. I suppose I always enjoy watching the flash of red when the turacos fly, the sun bears generally wrecking whatever you give them for fun and I think the Mossy frogs are pretty cool!"