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The exotic side of Veterinary Science

The last 10 years has seen a huge increase in the popularity of exotic pets. Among the weird and wonderful animals being kept in our homes are monkeys, tarantulas, iguanas, salamanders, snakes, even hedgehogs.

And as animal collections and reserves around the world develop their conservation and captive breeding programmes there is an insatiable demand for expertise in the husbandry of exotic animals.

To help develop that expertise and broaden the horizons of students aiming to work in the veterinary profession The University of Nottingham has joined forces with Twycross Zoo.

After five years in Asia studying the phenomenon of musth in Asian bull elephants, veterinarian and reproductive physiologist Dr Lisa Yon, a lecturer in zoo and wildlife medicine, now spends half her working week at the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and the other half at Twycross Zoo — just 30 minutes down the road in Leicestershire.

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Lisa Yon’s unique ‘dual’ role will ensure that students graduate with the appropriate training in exotic animals and open up new avenues for research which will benefit exotic animals in the wild as well as in collections across the world.

Dr Yon, who qualified as a vet at Cornell University and went on to study reproductive physiology in elephants at UC Davis, University of California, said: “I was keen to work with wildlife from the very start but there was no proper guidance and I had to make my own way. I don’t want that to happen to our students. I want to ensure that students have opportunities to explore any interests they may have in zoo and wildlife work, and to encourage that interest as best I’m able.”

Plundering the expertise based at the vet school Lisa is in the process of establishing a number of new research projects at the Zoo. The aim is to teach students the principles of research and developing hypothesis. When the first cohort of year three students return in the autumn they will be involved in exploring the spread of wild rodent diseases and the possible effect these have on captive animals, the DNA bar coding of various zoo species, a review of medical pathology records at Twycross to establish patterns and trends, nutrition and husbandry in the Red Fronted Macaw, and pathogen screening in captive primates.

In year five, their final year, all students will spend two weeks at Twycross as part of their clinical training.

Gary England, Foundation Dean and Professor of Comparative Veterinary Reproduction, at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science said: "I am delighted that we have been able to work with Twycross Zoo to establish this joint appointment. I have no doubt that by combining our efforts we will be able to make great advances in clinical research and the education of the next generation of veterinary students".

Dr Yon, is currently working with the zoo’s resident vet, Nic Masters from the International Zoo Veterinary Group, to develop animal health protocols in preventative medicine and is assisting with the European expansion of a US based study into the severe heart problems that affect about a third of captive male Gorillas. She is working to develop links with colleagues across the UK and beyond to explore collaborative work on areas of mutual interest in zoo and wildlife health.

In 1972 Twycross Zoo became a charitable trust concentrating on conservation and education. About three quarters of the animals housed at Twycross are officially classed as endangered species and the zoo now takes part in many captive breeding programmes for endangered animals. It is a global centre of excellence in primate conservation and breeding.

The Twycross Zoo link is spearheaded by its Director Suzanne Boardman who, as an experienced zoo and wildlife veterinarian with a passion for education, said: “I am delighted with this formal link with The University of Nottingham which will enable us to contribute to the education of veterinary students amongst whom will be the zoo and wildlife vets of the future”.

Among the students who have already taken advantage of the links with Twycross is first year student, Rebecca Amos, who is hoping to spend the summer working in Thailand at an animal rescue centre.

Emma Thorne | alfa
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