My experience as a zoo keeper helped shaped my vet school interests

Eleanor Taylor

After the disappointment of not achieving the A level grades to study veterinary medicine, I had to make some decisions. I was determined to be vet, so I continued studying for the subjects I needed to retake and reapplied to university. I had some spare time and needed something else to do – but what?

I wanted it to be animal-related work and remembered a two-week placement I’d done with the bird team at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire earlier in the year. At the end of the placement I’d been encouraged to apply for a job as a seasonal zoo keeper, but the timing didn’t work out alongside my studies.

'Hand-rear and release’ programme at Whipsnade zoo

As luck would have it, it turned out that a position was available! So, for the best part of a year, I worked in a fantastic place with some incredible bird species. During my time at ZSL Whipsnade, I was lucky to be involved in a ‘hand-rear and release’ programme in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, involving corncrake chicks. My job also involved caring for the large collection of exotic bird species, including flamingos, rhea, hornbills, penguins and many others.

Vet school offer

It was at the zoo that I had one of those moments you never forget – it was a sunny August day when I received the news that I had a been offered a place at the Royal Veterinary College.

"My experience as a zoo keeper helped shape my interests while at vet school and is something I hope to carry forward through my career"

Although I was sad to leave ZSL Whipsnade behind, I was excited to start a new adventure as a vet student.

I found myself missing the atmosphere and routine of working in a zoo and have tried to incorporate it where possible in my degree. I spent five weeks as a live-in voluntary keeper at the Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland as part of my pre-clinical placements and recently completed a clinical placement at Howletts and Port Lympne zoos, as well as completing rotations at ZSL London and ZSL Whipsnade zoos.

Research projects related to zoo experience

At RVC, our degree requires us to select and undertake two research projects, one in second-year and the other in final-year. I wanted to do something a bit different and my zoo experience came to mind.

My first research project involved considering factors affecting corncrake chick mortality prior to their release. This was very interesting for me as it involved looking at the very chicks I had helped to hand-rear. My second, and current research project, is looking at postmortem examination data for Humboldt penguins, which I am thoroughly enjoying. I am hoping to identify factors that may contribute to chick mortality so that they can be taken into further consideration when enhancing an established breeding programme.

My experience as a zoo keeper helped shape my interests while at vet school and is something I hope to carry forward through my career.

Back to Categories