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Leading the Way: Sac Zoo and UC Davis Partnership

Categories: Veterinary Exam, Zoo Partners

Written by:  Jenessa Gjeltema, DVM, Dipl. ACZM

“I am proud to be involved in the partnership between UC Davis and the Sacramento Zoo. It allows us to provide the highest quality veterinary care for our animals while also providing a unique educational experience for training veterinarians in the field of Zoological Medicine.”

The path to becoming a veterinarian at a zoo requires a lot of hard work and dedication! To become a specialist in the field of Zoological Medicine, a veterinarian typically completes four years of undergraduate college, four years of veterinary school, an internship for one to two years, and then pursues further training such as a Zoological Medicine Residency for an additional three to five years!

Sloth Exam
Dr. Gjeltema providing an exam to the Zoo’s sloth.

At the end of all of this training, they must pass a comprehensive and difficult examination that tests their knowledge related to caring for the wide variety of animals that reside in zoos before they are board certified in zoological medicine and considered a specialist.

Worldwide, there are currently less than 250 veterinary specialists certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine. The need for knowledgeable veterinarians in this field is rapidly expanding to provide specialized medical care for zoo animals and to meet many of the unique developing challenges related to wildlife conservation efforts.

Since the 1970s the Sacramento Zoo has had a robust partnership with the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine to provide the highest quality health care for the Zoo’s much-loved animals.

Veterinary specialists in the field of Zoological Medicine from UC Davis provide top-notch preventive care and treatment for the animals who live at the Zoo. This partnership doesn’t just benefit the animals, however! Veterinary students and residents receive hands-on, onsite training at the Sacramento Zoo, where they gain proficiency under the guidance of knowledgeable and experienced Zoo veterinarians.

Black and White Ruffed Lemur Exam
Dr. Marinkovich training under the direction of Dr. Wack.

The Sacramento Zoo plays an important role in the training of future zoo veterinarians. The very first zoological medicine residency program in the world was started at UC Davis in 1974 by Dr. Murray E. Fowler. This program includes providing veterinary care to the animals at the Sacramento Zoo as part of the training. This successful partnership has trained 38 residents to become specialists in Zoological Medicine as well as given hundreds of veterinary students the opportunity to gain invaluable experience working with exotic and endangered species.

Dr. Marinkovich, a veterinarian receiving training through the partnership said, “I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of the Sacramento Zoo and UC Davis Zoological Medicine Residency. Being able to train at these world-class institutions provides me with an interesting and diverse caseload that allows me to continue to grow as a clinician.”

If you’ve ever passed by the windows of the Dr. Murray E Fowler Veterinary Hospital at the Sacramento Zoo, you’ve probably seen students and residents being mentored and instructed.  It is one of only a handful of similar programs across the country designed to train the next generation of bright, innovative and compassionate zoo veterinarians.

Black and White Ruffed Lemur Exam
Visitors witnessing a medical exam at the Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital

Dr. Wack, Sacramento Zoo Veterinary Director said, “This partnership between the number one veterinary school in the world and the Sacramento Zoo is a triple win – win – win resulting in the animals receiving the best care.” In this way, the partnership between the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Sacramento Zoo fits well with the Zoo’s mission to inspire appreciation, respect, and a connection with wildlife and nature through education, recreation and conservation.