Veterinarians in the French zoo

In France, Veterinary practice in zoological institutions accounts for only a small percentage of veterinary services in France, it is subject to complex national, European and international regulations relating to the care, husbandry and exchange of wild animals in captivity. The legislation on zoological veterinary medicine is based mostly on the legal definition of veterinary practice. In addition to the use of devices subject to special regulations (x-rays, remote injection devices), the zoo vet also uses drugs (permanent use of the “cascade”, occasional use of imports) within the limits prescribed by the law on pharmacy. The veterinarian must know the rules and regulations applicable to the kind of institution he is working with, the institution being also subject to regulatory obligations on medical care, identification and registers. The vet’s healthcare duties, recently redefined on a European level, remain complex but essential, particularly when treating (re)-emerging diseases. Zoo veterinarians in France, are specialists with advanced training in the treatment of exotic wildlife species, who care for animals held in captivity. They are practitioners with extensive training in the care of non-domestic animal species. Their patients may include elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, lions, tigers, bears, parrots, aquatic animals, small mammals, reptiles, and many other species.

Most of the veterinarians ( le site de vétérinaire de garde ) in French zoos are with more than 20 years of experience, and with a great interest in wildlife and special animals.  In France, zoos started recruiting veterinarians, relative recently in 1989 for private establishments, where they often are the sole scientist in charge. Under European and French law, zoo animals must be placed under the care of an agreed veterinarian working in cooperation with an official veterinarian.  The functions of zoo veterinarians are not limited to medical activities. The treatment and prevention of individual and group diseases. Practitioners face numerous difficulties, due to the animals’ anatomical and physiological specificities, and to restraining problems, sometimes solved by training the animals to receive medical care. Veterinarians must autopsy every dead animal, as well as commensal animals that may present an epidemiological risk. This helps implement quick actions in case of infectious diseases, re-examine food rations and their distribution, enclosures, etc.


Therefore, zoo veterinarians act successively as clinicians, pathologists, nutritionists, breeders, epidemiologists, ethologists, researchers, architects, animal transporters, animal conservationists, and even coordinators of international breeding programs. They are expected to produce reports on these various activities. They also work as instructors, and are often called upon for expert evaluations. In small establishments, veterinarians also act as personnel managers, and even sometimes as directors of the establishment. The French association AFVPZ was created in 1995 with 10 members. It now has 77 members (43 are full time employees), who meet twice a year and actively discuss technical matters on the Internet. The association is also the profession’s representative body to the administration, and played a very valuable role during the recent health crises. Zoo veterinarians work with animals in zoos and other environments to improve and maintain the animals’ health and prevent disease. They often work with a vast array of species and interact with zoo personnel on matters of animal maintenance and treatment. Typical duties for a zoo vet may include performing exams, administering sedation, taking samples, giving vaccinations, administering fluids, prescribing medication, performing surgery, cleaning teeth, taking ultrasounds and radiographs, treating wounds, assisting with captive breeding programs, and supervising zoo veterinary technicians. They may also be involved with research studies and interacting with the public as a part of educational events.

Zoo veterinarians provide both emergency and routine medical treatment to the many species of exotic animals kept at zoos. By observing an animal’s behavior and providing a physical examination, a zoo veterinarian can diagnose illnesses, learn the extent of injuries and provide treatment. Dealing with sick animals can be emotionally stressful, and the zoo atmosphere may tend to be noisy.  In France, You’ll need a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine. While it varies, typically at least one to two years of experience is required. All states require a license, but certification is optional. You will need decision-making, interpersonal, management and problem-solving skills, along with compassion and manual dexterity. Aspiring animal doctors need undergraduate training before entering veterinary school. Veterinary programs generally require students to have already completed such subjects as anatomy, animal science, biology, chemistry, physiology and zoology. Students may select any undergraduate major in preparation for veterinary school, provided they complete all the classes necessary for admittance to a veterinary program. While no specific major is required, biology may be a good undergraduate choice for aspiring veterinarians.

Future zoo veterinarians need a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree from an accredited veterinary medicine college. Programs typically take four years to finish and involve classroom studies, laboratory experience and clinical work. The coursework generally covers topics like animal anatomy, animal illnesses and physiology. Every state mandates that veterinarians hold a license to practice, and licensing regulations can vary by state. Aspiring veterinarians must have graduated from an accredited veterinary school and successfully completed. Many states also demand that applicants pass a state exam in addition to the national test. In order to be a zoo veterinarian, new vets must acquire work experience with exotic animals, which can be accomplished through a voluntary internship. Many zoos have internship programs with veterinary schools that allow interns to work under the supervision of experienced zoo veterinarians in treating exotic animals. Interns may serve rotations in various aspects of zoological medicine, including surgery, dentistry and anesthesiology. Completing an internship usually takes one year or one year and a half, and can prepare interns to serve a residency training program in zoological medicine or to work in private practice or perform clinical scientific work at a university. Serving an internship can also help veterinarians who want board certification.

Certification sometimes is mandatory for veterinarians, but getting certified in zoological medicine displays expertise and extended training in that specialty.To become a zoo veterinarian, you will need to complete an undergraduate degree program, medical program, internship and residency, along with obtaining a license and any certifications that you prefer. The challenges to execute wildlife conservation projects successfully have become more complex as anthropogenic changes continue to stress the planet, changing wild lands. As the wild becomes less so, more species are placed in captivity to improve their chances of long-term survival, while concurrently management (and medicine) for free-ranging wildlife has become increasingly important. A variety of disciplines, including veterinary medicine, is now recognized as key to wildlife conservation.  Although veterinarians have been involved in conservation for decades, it is only recently that their role has become more appreciated in the larger conservation community. This realization of the contributions of veterinarians has occurred at a time when disease has been recognized as significantly impacting species’ conservation both in situ and ex situ. Today, veterinarians work with captive and free-ranging animals to prevent and/or treat diseases that threaten species’ survival.

Here are some advantages of been a zoo veterinarian in France: The job of a veterinarian zoo has increased to 12% between 2012 and 2018.  The salary, is a high salary (For example; median annual veterinarian salary in 2014 was around US$ 87,590). He/she might get to work with exotic animals.Variety and challenge in daily tasks (conduct physicals, instruct zoo staff, and plan nutrition programs).  However, here are some disadvantages of been a veterinarian zoo; It requires significant schooling (Professional veterinary medical degree), Field is competitive, both professionally and academically (Fewer than half of applicants to veterinary medical schools in 2010 were accepted). Irregular hours (25% of veterinarian worked more than 50 hours in 2010). Distress of witnessing injury, illness or death of animals. Potential danger inherent in working with animals, especially large and wild species.  Therefore, we cannot deny how relevant a veterinarian zoo is. A veterinarian zoo works to prevent animals from becoming ill, that is the essence of a zoo veterinarian´s role.

Working in a zoo is different though a zoo hospital may be, the daily routine may sound familiar to the staff of any clinic. Certain procedures and tasks are planned and then something unexpected blows up the schedule. Treating a sick animal is a primary function of any veterinary hospital. But the veterinary zoo, works by following a regimen of routine exams throughout the zoo population. The diagnosis and treatment of exotic animals is inherently difficult, from the sheer size of many patients to the vast amount of medical information that is still unknown.  Practice veterinary medicine in a zoo can be a challenge, for example attending a lion exam table. The myriad physiologies of exotic animals are not the only difference from typical veterinary practice. The shapes and size of the patients are made for some incredible challenges. There is not “a most difficult animal to work with in the zoo” every wild animal has it owns challenges. Though the rare and larger-than-life animals may be more exciting to most than the inhabitants of the petting zoo, all of the zoo’s residents are important. Though the slow economy has negatively affected people’s leisure habits, it may have had a positive effect on the Kansas City Zoo for example. Maybe the fact that such an excellent and affordable experience is right at home for a large metropolitan population hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In a given day, veterinarians are a pediatrician, a dermatologist, a cardiologist, an internist, a surgeon, a radiologist, an anesthesiologist, a psychiatrist and a funeral service all in one.  Altered from its origins in farm animal practice, veterinary medicine has shifted from carthorses and farm animals to family pets. The profession’s demographics have changed as well. Women far outnumber men in veterinary schools, and specialization in fields such as cardiology and oncology, once rare, is commonplace. However, for most veterinarians, one aspect of a life spent treating animal’s remains the same: No two days are alike, considering the varied roles encompassed by general practitioners. A veterinary technician for the zoo, include for example cleaning the big cat’s teeth, including its long canines. Zoo veterinarians, say their day-to-day work can encompass thousands of individual animals and a multitude of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They love the challenge and the diversity.They see the animals as ambassadors for conservation.

Zoo veterinarians also participate directly in conservation projects ranging from breeding programs to a variety of fieldwork, with some veterinarians at zoos focusing on wildlife in the wild.Zoo veterinarians in France, usually are employed by zoos, aquariums, museums, or research facilities. Other options for zoo veterinary practitioners include positions in academia (as professors or biology teachers), veterinary pharmaceutical sales, various government organizations, and laboratories. All veterinarians graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, which is achieved after completion of a demanding course of study covering both small and large animal species. France was one of the first countries to recognize some animals as “sentient beings”. Law no. 76-629 of 1976 on the protection of nature declares that animals are sentient, however this applies only to animals that are owned, thus excluding free-living animals. Article 9 provides that all animals being sentient beings must be placed by their owners in conditions that are compatible with the biological imperative requirements of their species.France has a long history of animal protection and was one of the first countries to introduce animal protection legislation with its 1850law, which made it an offence to mistreat domestic animals in public. And of course these rules also applies for zoos in France. A specific decree of March 18, 2011 deals with the keeping of non-domestic animals in travelling spectacles such as circuses. This includes a requirement for animals to be kept in conditions that satisfy their biological and behavioral needs in line with the Environment Code, together with provisions requiring that animals have the possibility to exercise outside each day, have sufficient room in any outdoor enclosures to move freely, have a suitable diet and receive veterinary treatment if they are sick or injured.