Zoological Contortions: Advantages and Disadvantages of Joining Veterinarian and Curator Positions
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2014
Tara M. Harrison, DVM, MPVM, DACZM
Potter Park Zoo, Lansing, MI, USA; College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA


Zoos have become “living museums,” and curator positions have evolved this trend.1,2 As zoos have grown and matured, the number of curators, and specialized managers have developed. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has required certain positions, including curators and veterinarians, and thus, many small to medium sized zoos have been forced into creating curator and full-time veterinarian positions. Some zoos, however, have chosen to save money and created a dual role of veterinarian/curator.

As a veterinarian/curator for almost 10 years, there are certainly some advantages, and many disadvantages. Advantages include 1) learning and being more involved in animal husbandry, 2) knowing the ins and outs of zookeeping staff, 3) extensive involvement in Species Survival Plans (SSP), and 4) avoiding inevitable conflicts between a curator and a veterinarian. Disadvantages include 1) it is discouraged by the AZA, 2) it is challenging to balance curator duties and veterinary medicine, 3) both jobs alone qualify as a full time job at even a small zoo, and 4) the zoos lose the often useful “separation of powers” effect of having two different people serving in these roles.

Overall, although it may be a cost savings, it can be a challenging position that is hard to devote adequate time to both positions. It is important for AZA and its members to consider all factors and allow flexibility in development of both curator and veterinary positions, as this will continue to encourage AZA institutions to expand and improve in care of their animals.

Literature Cited

1.  Braverman I. Looking at zoos. Cultural Studies. 2011;25:809–842.

2.  Fiore WJ, Brunk GG, Meyer CK. Norms of professional behavior in highly specialized organizations: the case of American zoos and aquariums. Admin Soc. 1992;24:81–99.


Speaker Information
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Tara M. Harrison, DVM, MPVM, DACZM
Potter Park Zoo
Lansing, MI, USA

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