John M. Sykes IV, DVM, DACZM
Veterinarians tend to think of their role in the zoo as supporting inspiration and education of the public by keeping the collection healthy and happy. There are opportunities for zoo veterinarians to engage directly with the public and the local community. Opportunities may vary with each institution and location, and they may include high school career exploration programs; community science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) events; pre-veterinary club events; and one-on-one mentorship programs. Recently, a unique educational offering was created at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s parks: the Little Zoo Vets program. Classes designed for third through fifth graders have been developed using a combination of images, videos, sounds, actual veterinary equipment, live animals, and custom-built models. Classes are taught by a zoo veterinarian with assistance from other hospital staff. The program has been offered in an after-school format for a series of eight classes over a semester and in an after-camp format as a series of five classes within a week. Topics include physical exam, blood tests, fecal exams, anesthesia, and darting, among others. Students are invited to participate in other education offerings at the zoo, and parents are invited to become supporters. Innovative outreach programs such as Little Zoo Vets can enable veterinarians to contribute directly to their institution’s educational mission, reputation, and potentially revenue—all while being highly rewarding and fun to execute!