For zoo animals caught in the crossfire of war, the stories are grim. Abandonment, starvation and looting become new threats in an uncertain future. But did you know that the United States military has a special corps of soldiers whose mission it is to provide veterinary expertise during times of conflict, war, and other emergencies? Nashville Zoo recently partnered with the Veterinary Services Division out of Fort Campbell Army Base in Kentucky to help these military veterinarians become familiar with zoo and exotic animal medicine and husbandry.
“Military veterinarians are often called upon to work with a diverse set of animals,” said Dr. Heather Robertson, Director of Veterinary Services of the Nashville Zoo. “As an example, when the Baghdad Zoo was taken over during the Iraq War, US soldiers were among the first to rehabilitate, feed and care for the surviving animals.”
Army veterinarians have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, but while in the military, they often lose some of the hands-on opportunities typically gained in day-to-day veterinary practice. To address this, the Veterinary Services Division at Fort Campbell reached out to Nashville Zoo to see if there was a chance for their staff to observe and learn more about zoo medicine.
“We had previously given the military group a training seminar and handling course on camelids”, said Dr. Robertson, “Since they could be called upon to work on locally owned camels if deployed to Middle Eastern countries. It was so well received that they thought a rotation at the Zoo would be beneficial for their team.”
Once a week, Fort Campbell soldiers shadow and train with the Nashville Zoo’s animal care staff.
“In addition to working with our veterinary team, we rotate them through all other animal areas to learn about exotic animal husbandry,” said Dr. Robertson. “Since the program’s inception in September, participants have assisted in surgery, participated in anesthesia, and worked with our Carnivore, Hoofstock, Avian, and Reptile teams.”
Through this training, military veterinarians and veterinary technicians are better rounded and gain exposure to non-domestic species. Zoo staff also has benefitted from the alliance, as one of the Fort Campbell veterinarians is a board-certified surgeon, with a focus on orthopedics, who has assisted during some surgical cases.
“It’s been a great experience to work alongside our colleagues who are serving our country, while we are doing the jobs we love,” said Dr. Robertson. “We hope this program continues to expand and provide great learning opportunities for both our teams.”