Postgraduate Education in Zoo and Wildlife Veterinary Science the Master of Science Course in Wild Animal Health at London
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 1998
Anthony W. Sainsbury1, BVetMed, CertLAS, MRCVS; Mark T. Fox2, BVetMed, PhD, MRCVS; James K. Kirkwood3, BVSc, PhD, FIBiol, MRCVS

1Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London, UK; 2The Royal Veterinary College, University of London, Royal College Street, London, UK; 3Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, The Old School, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, UK


There has been a growth in the number of veterinarians involved in the veterinary care and welfare of both captive and free-living wild animals. The opportunities for postgraduate veterinary education in the science and medicine of wild animals is limited and there is a need to produce more veterinarians with this specialist knowledge. The Master of Science Course in Wild Animal Health jointly run by the Institute of Zoology (Zoological Society of London) and the Royal Veterinary College (University of London) was established in 1994 to meet this requirement. The participants are given tuition through lectures, tutorials and demonstrations, and gain practical experience in the field of wild animal medicine. Participants are assessed on examination papers, course work, a research project and an oral examination. Twenty-nine veterinarians from 18 countries in six continents have graduated from the course of which 18 have already found posts working with free-living or captive wildlife.


There has, over the last 30 years, been an enormous increase in our knowledge of wild animal disease2 and a growth in the number of veterinarians involved in the veterinary care and welfare of both captive and free-living wild animals. During this period, interventions for reasons of health, welfare and the conservation of free-living wild animals have been undertaken with increasing frequency.1,7,9,10 Such actions require specialist veterinary input, for example, in assessing and controlling the risk of accidental disease introduction to wildlife, domestic animal and human populations associated with wildlife translocations. In addition, a wide range of wild animals is now kept in captivity: in zoos for conservation and exhibition, in laboratories for research purposes and as pets.

Tuition in the veterinary care of wild animals receives relatively little attention in the already crowded undergraduate veterinary curriculum. Consequently, there is a growing need for veterinarians (and related scientists) with specialist knowledge of the management of wildlife and the control of diseases of both free-living and captive wild animals.8 Hatt and others3 have shown that opportunities for postgraduate education in wild animal health throughout the world are limited. Degree courses in wild animal health of which the authors are aware include a Master’s Course in Wildlife Diseases offered by the University of Pretoria, Republic of South Africa, Faculty of Veterinary Science; a Master of Science Course in Wildlife Medicine at the University of Sydney, Australia and a Master of Science Course in Wildlife Medicine at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London and the Royal Veterinary College, University of London collaborated for a number of years to provide undergraduate teaching in the field of wild animal health and since 1991 have run an elective course in zoo and wildlife medicine for final year BVetMed students. In addition, the Institute of Zoology provided a 6-month postgraduate course, to which the Royal Veterinary College contributed, in wildlife husbandry and disease in 1990 and 1991.

The first Master’s Course in Wild Animal Health commenced in October 1994 with twelve participants from six different countries attending. In the first 3 years of the course, 29 veterinarians representing 18 countries from six continents have graduated. A further fourteen participants are attending the 1997/98 course, of which six individuals are from previously unrepresented countries.

The Master of Science Course in Wild Animal Health

Entry Requirements

The course is primarily for qualified veterinarians. However, provision is made to be able to accept biology graduates with appropriate experience and qualifications under some circumstances (but such students are unable to undertake certain veterinary procedures on the course). Proficiency in spoken and written English is essential.

Inquiries and Applications for the Course

From the first announcement of the course until October 1997, 572 inquiries from 59 countries have been received about the course. The 136 applications have been received for the first three courses and a total of 100 offers made for places. The most common reason for non-attendance on the course for those offered a place has been insufficient funding.

Structure of the Course

The course, which lasts 12 months, comprises:

1.  A taught component, occupying three academic terms leading to examinations in June.

2.  An individual research project, carried out during July, August and September, leading to the final assessment.

The taught component of the course is divided into six modules and consists of lectures, tutorials, demonstrations, practical work and site visits (October–May). Tuition is provided by speakers from the Institute of Zoology, the Royal Veterinary College and numerous other zoological and veterinary centres, drawing upon expertise from both within and outside Europe. Module A is the foundation course in wild animal health and includes, population biology, conservation genetics, the impact of diseases on populations, diversity in anatomy and physiology, management of wild animals, artificial reproductive techniques, welfare of captive and free-living wildlife, organization of zoo programs for ex-situ conservation, nutrition, legal and ethical aspects and key issues in sustainable utilization. Module B includes teaching on epidemiology, statistics and information systems. Non-infectious diseases are the subject of Module C including nutritional diseases and toxicities. Module D is titled “Infectious Diseases and Disease Investigation” and Module E contains tuition in therapeutics, preventive medicine and imaging. Restraint (including anaesthesia) and aspects of reptilian and avian surgery are the subjects in Module F.

Participants are encouraged to make an assessment of the course by scoring each lecture, tutorial, demonstration or practical for scientific content and presentation and space is available on the assessment form for additional comments where necessary.

Practical Experience

Participants are expected to acquire practical experience in duty groups at the Zoological Society of London’s collections, Regents Park (London Zoo) and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. On two days each week, the participants attend clinical and post-mortem cases with the Society’s veterinarians. At other times there are opportunities to keep up to date with clinical cases. To broaden the range of practical experience offered, visits are arranged to other institutions, for example, to the RSPCA wildlife hospital in Norfolk, for the handling of pinnipeds. The course also includes training in the use of firearms and remote injection techniques.

In-Course Assessment

Each participant undertakes four assignments during the taught component of the course in which a subject area related to the particular module in progress must be thoroughly researched. Examples of assignments that have been undertaken include: the population dynamics of the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) (Christopher Dutton 1994), mycotoxicosis in free-living wildlife (Karina Wrigley 1995) and chemical restraint and surgical anaesthesia of amphibians (Jean-Michel Hatt 1996). Each participant gives an oral presentation to the rest of the class and a course director and provides a two-page written summary.

The participants are required to submit a casebook of four clinical and/or pathologic cases with which they have personally being involved. Cases may involve aspects of free-living or captive wildlife and describe population, group or individual animal problems.

Research Projects

Each student is required to undertake an individual research project, of a practical nature, on an approved aspect of wild animal health, and to submit a typewritten report not exceeding 10,000 words. Approximately 12 weeks during the summer is allocated to project work but the majority are planned during the early months of the course. Examples of projects that have been undertaken include: “An Attempt to Characterize a Poxvirus from Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus)” (Norman Mukarati 1995), “An Investigation of the Interspecies Variation in Pharmacokinetic Parameters of Enrofloxacin (Baytril) in Relation to Bodyweight” (Catherine Brown 1996), and “A Histopathological Study of the Possible Effects of Mercury Contamination in the Liver of Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) from British Waters” (Julie Barnes 1995). Some projects have already been published4,5,6,11 and it is expected that further publications based on the MSc projects will appear in the near future.


Participants are assessed on their performance in two 3-hour and one 2-hour written examination papers, course work, the project report and an oral examination.

Careers of Graduates Following Completion of the Course

As expected, given the depth of the syllabus and the diverse job opportunities in the wild animal health field, the interests and careers of those who have graduated from the course have varied. Of the 29 veterinarians who have graduated from the course to date, seven have found work with free-living wild animals, seven have gained posts working with captive wild animals, four with both free-living and captive animals and a further three primarily with domestic animals but with some free-living or captive animal involvement. Of the 29 graduates, six are working in government posts, three in zoological collections, seven in university posts and two in rehabilitation centres.


Three Master of Science in Wild Animal Health courses have been completed and a further year is in progress. The level of interest in the course and the success that graduates have shown in findings posts in the veterinary care and medicine of captive and free-living wildlife suggests that the course has fulfilled a need for postgraduate education in wild animal health.


We would like to thank the many people who have contributed to the course: members of staff at the Institute of Zoology and the Royal Veterinary College who have assisted with planning, organization and teaching; the many external lecturers for dedicated tuition; the external examiners J. Baker, J.E. Cooper and I.F. Keymer, and the course participants.

Literature Cited

1.  Cunningham, A.A. 1996. Disease risks of wildlife translocations. Cons. Biol. 10: 349–353.

2.  Fowler, M.E. 1993. Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. Current Therapy 3. WB Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 1–617.

3.  Hatt, J-M, N.V.K. Ashraf, F. Park, S. Porter, and G. Tapia-Hervert Calderon. 1998. Directory of Postgraduate Opportunities in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine. World Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, Ballygawley, Ireland.

4.  Hatt, J-M, R.W. Mayes, and M. Lechner-Doll. 1997. Use of N-alkanes as markers for the study of digestive strategies in captive giraffes Giraffa camelopardalis. Proc. Nutrition Soc. 56(3): 323A.

5.  Hoogesteyn, A.L., and A.A. Cunningham. 1996 Development of an indirect immunofluorescent test for the detection of malaria antibodies in penguins (Sphenisciformes) Proceedings of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference Pp. 584–585.

6.  von Houwald, F., and E.J. Flach. in press. Prevalence of chronic foot disease in captive greater one-horned rhinoceroses (Rhinoceros unicornis). Proceedings of the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians.

7.  Kirkwood, J.K. 1993. Interventions for wildlife health, conservation and welfare. Vet. Rec. 133: 141–142.

8.  Kirkwood, J.K. 1994. Veterinary education for wildlife conservation, health and welfare. Vet. Rec. 135:148–151.

9.  Olney, P.J., G.M. Mace, and Feistner, A.T.C. 1994. Creative Conservation: Interactive Management of Wild and Captive Animals. Chapman and Hall, London Pp. 1–387

10.  Sainsbury, A.W, P.M. Bennett, and J.K. Kirkwood. 1995. The welfare of free-living wild animals in Europe: harm caused by human activities. Animal Welfare 4: 183–206.

11.  Sainsbury, A.W., J. Gurnell, P.F. Nettleton, A.A. Cunningham, E-S. Warns, S.K. Macgregor, P. Daszak, and S.J. Ball. 1995. Studies on the health and welfare of red squirrels in the UK. Proceedings of the 2nd NPI Red Alert UK Forum for Red Squirrel Conservation. Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland, London Pp. 95–97.


Speaker Information
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Anthony W. Lair, BVetMed, CertLAS, MRCVS
Institute of Zoology
Zoological Society of London
Regents Park
London, UK

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