ZOO VET  How is a zoo vet different from my puppy's vet?  NEWTON'S APPLE looks at a day in the life of a zoo vet.
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Getting Started

Begin the lesson by dividing the blackboard in half, labeling one half "Animals" and the other "Needs." Have the students come up with a list of all the animals that might be found in a zoo. Instruct them to think of all the things that a zoo needs to do and provide for each animal. Next to each "Needs," write students' suggestions of who could take care of each task you listed. Ask the students: What do you think the role of a zoo is or should be? 


One of the most important people at any zoo is the veterinarian. Though zoo vets and domestic animal vets go to school for the same amount of time, zoo vets must be familiar with the anatomy and physiology of many more species of animals ? thousands in some cases. A zoo vet must know how to take and read x?rays of a giraffe´s neck or a crocodile´s tail, whether a snake´s vertebrae is developing correctly, where the best place is to give a shot to an elephant, and much more.

Zoo vets make regular visits to every animal enclosure and discuss potential health concerns with zookeepers, who are usually the first to notice if an animal is sick or injured. Wild animals in captivity need periodic checkups and vaccinations. The vet must carefully examine each animal´s coat or skin, teeth, ears, eyes, heart, and lungs. 

Different animals need different preventive care. For example, unlike humans, whose teeth stop growing when they reach a certain size, some animals (like rabbits) have teeth that keep growing but are naturally ground down in the wild by what the animal chews. Zoo vets must grind these animals´ teeth down or make certain that they have appropriate items to chew.

Because the wild animals in zoos and aquariums are so exotic, their diseases can be, too. Sometimes an animal may suffer from a disease never before seen in its species. And sometimes one species of animal may transmit a "treatable" disease to another species in whom that disease is incurable. 

A zoo is a collection of ecosystems and wild animal species. To ensure healthy animals, all aspects of their living space must be just right. Zoo vets are instrumental in exhibit design because they can detect health problems linked to the anxiety level of an animal in a too?small or crowded space.

Zoos and aquariums throughout the world share information on breeding of captive animals. In an effort to eliminate the capture of wild animals for zoos, these institutions plan their breeding programs for the good of wild animals everywhere. Family trees are kept to ensure that animals from different ancestry breed together (in-breeding can pass genetic diseases down through the generations). Vets determine when a female is ready to breed, monitor the pregnancy, and, when necessary, help deliver the young.

Often veterinarians specialize. Some specialty areas include cardiology, epidemiology, neurology, surgery, dentistry, ophthalmology, and radiology. Specialists in these and other fields are helping captive animals live healthier and longer lives.


Zoos have a serious mission: animal conservation. What relationship might zoo vets have with organizations that seek to protect endangered species? 

ZOO VET: Student Activity
Design an environment that keeps wild animals safe and healthy in captivity.


 Zoo vets work closely with zoo planners and other zoo staff to determine the healthiest environment for each species. Study two animals to determine how to provide the best ecosystem for them. Design an area of the zoo for them to live in. Plan each ecosystem design to a common scale so that the final product combines the work of each group to create a classroom zoo. 

Use any resources available (text, software, Web sites, zoo staff, etc.) as you gather information for data logs. 

If time allows, each group will use recycling supplies (cardboard, cans, etc.) and other supplies (clay, feathers, sticks) to create the animals and habitats for the zoo. 


  • paper and pencils to create data logs and record data 
  • variety of information resources (books, magazines, local zoo, Web sites, software)
  • chart paper
  • ruler
  • markers
  • recycling and other art supplies 

  • 1. Identify and assign the species that each group will study. (You may want to call a local zoo or check the many zoos on the Web to determine which animals are found in each ecosystem.) Alternately, assign an ecosystem to each group, and allow the group to select the animals they will include.

     2. Research how to provide the best ecosystem, including the optimum number of animals of each species; the space required for each species; and temperature, light, water, plant, food, and medical requirement for each species. 

    3. On chart paper, design the section of your classroom zoo that will house your animals. Be sure to use rulers to make your design to scale. (Note: Before you start, make a class decision regarding the scale to use.)

     4. Connect the ecosystems designed by all the groups to create the classroom zoo. Present your groupÕs zoo ecosystem and its inhabitants to the larger group, and answer any questions others have about your animals or your design.


     1. What fields of science do zoo staff members, including zoo vets, need to understand?

     2 What other areas of expertise are required to manage a successful zoo? 

    Brian Show Number: 1501


    Books and articles

    Irvine, G. (1991)
    The work of zoo doctors at the San Diego Zoo.
    New York: Simon & Schuster. (out of print)

    Computer software

    Scholastic: Operation Frog. 
    CD-ROM for Macintosh, or 3.5 diskettes for DOS and Macintosh. 
    Available from Scholastic, (800) SCHOLASTIC or 


    American Association of Zoo Veterinarians
    6 North Pennel Road
    Media, PA 19063
    (610) 892-4812

    National Wildlife Federation
    1400 Sixteenth Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20036
    (800) 588-1650

    Web sites

    The Electronic Zoo

     ZooNet-All About Zoos

     Animal Omnibus

     The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology's Animal Diversity Web

    Try This:

    Imagine yourself to be your favorite zoo animal. Write a story about how you spend 24 hours. What does your area look like? Who visits you? Do you like them? What do you eat and do? What would life be like if you were living in your natural environment rather than the zoo? 
    Try This:
    Visit your local zoo. Record your observations of how the animals are presented to the public. What do they eat? What ecosystems are displayed? What do you learn from the exhibit signage?

    Try This:

    Many animal conservation and protection organizations encourage students to adopt an animal and learn more about its situation. Explore possibilities for your class to adopt an animal. Some of the organizations are listed in the Resource section on the reverse side. 

    NEWTON'S APPLE video cassettes and educational materials provide further information about this and other topics. Call 1-800-588-NEWTON.


    Copyright 1997,
    Twin Cities Public Television

    We encourage duplication for educational non-commercial use.Educational materials developed with the National Science Teachers Association.NEWTON'S Apple is a production of KTCA Saint Paul/Minneapolis.Made possible by a grant from 3M.