Zoo Veterinarian Comfortable At Unpredictable Job

By  //  April 4, 2014

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Challenging Mission

ABOVE VIDEO: Brevard Zoo is a 75-acre facility located in Melbourne, Florida, that is home to more than 650 animals representing more than 165 species located in Florida, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. The Zoo features many extraordinary animal experiences including giraffe and lorikeet feedings, African kayak tours, paddle boats in the wetlands and a train ride. Brevard Zoo is a not-for-profit organization accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 

IMAGES BY JOHN EGAN

BREVARD COUNTY • VIERA, FLORIDA – There is never such a thing as a typical day for Dr. Trevor Zachariah, DVM.

Dr. Trevor Zachariah, feeds 3-year-old Dromedary camels Frankie, left and Sammy at the Brevard Zoo. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image).

As director of veterinary services for the Brevard Zoo, Zachariah said he never knows what to expect every time he arrives for work. He could find himself chasing down an angry emu, taking a giraffe’s temperature or extracting a bobcat’s impacted tooth.

Zachariah, 36, has served as the Brevard Zoo’s veterinarian since 2010. It’s the only job he’s ever had — or ever wanted — for that matter.

Growing up in Coldwater, Mich., Zachariah said he chose to pursue a career in zoo veterinary medicine as a child and has never wavered in what he wanted to do.

“The reason I’m in the field of zoo wildlife medicine is because it is so much different from anything else,” he said. “There are so many different species and so little is known about them. I like the challenge of learning about them.”

Always a whiz in science in school, Zachariah graduated from Michigan State University in 2004 and then completed studies at Louisiana State University in exotic pets and wildlife medicine in 2006. After that he finished a residency program in Chicago training at the Brookfield Zoo, the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium.

Vet tech Beth Nasse, left, assists Dr. Trevor Zachariah DVM in treating all the animals at the Brevard Zoo. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

COMMITTED TO EXCELLENCE

When the opening at the Brevard Zoo was advertised, Zachariah said he jumped at the chance to apply for the job.

“I sent in an application, did a phone interview and then had an on-site interview and really was impressed with this zoo and the people here,” he said.

“And I liked that the zoo was committed to excellence in animal care by building a modern 9,000-square-foot animal hospital and letting me have major input into what was needed for it.”

He said treatment differs for each of the Brevard Zoo’s 550 animals and 130 to 140 different species.

Zachariah said treatment differs for each of the Brevard Zoo’s 550 animals and 130 to 140 different species. “None of them are too bad,” Zachariah said. “Giraffes tend to be wary of new things. They are very routine-oriented and wary of new people and new things. They do not want to cooperate easily.” His most challenging case to date was dealing with several alligators that needed leg amputations.

“None of them are too bad,” Zachariah said. “Giraffes tend to be wary of new things. They are very routine-oriented and wary of new people and new things. They do not want to cooperate easily.”

His most challenging case to date was dealing with several alligators that needed leg amputations.

“It was difficult putting the entire procedure together,” Zachariah said. “First we had to remove them from the compound and the plan for anesthesia was a learning curve. Alligators can be very aggressive and sometimes bite and snap at each other, causing severe injuries to each other. In this case it required amputations.”

Often the conditions and diseases Zachariah treats are far removed from those a typical veterinarian might encounter when dealing in a private practice with house pets.

“Iron Storage Disease affects birds, marine animals, black rhinos and lemurs,” he said.

“In the wild, many animals aren’t exposed to iron in their diet. Their diets in captivity differ. Iron accumulates in the liver and causes dysfunction of tissue. So diet modification is the usual course of treatment.”

Dr. Trevor Zachariah admires Raffiki, a Masi giraffe at the Brevard Zoo. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

RAISED LEVEL OF VETERINARY CARE

Another condition unique to zoo animals is stereotypy, or the abnormal pacing back and forth from being caged, and it can be a concern.

“Repetitive movements like that are treated by providing mental stimulation and various forms of training,” Zachariah said. “We try to avoid treating that type of behavior with drugs because of the side effects of the medications.”

Some zoo animals such as iguanas and reptiles suffer from metabolic bone disease brought on by nutritional imbalances or a lack of Vitamin D. Treatment may involve feeding affected animals a more balanced diet or the use of intensive calcium or other nutritional supplements.

“When you deal with wild animals you are limited with what you can do with them,” he said. “The circumstances dictate what I can and can’t do with them. The challenge comes in knowing and understanding the differences between the animals. If it’s difficult for a pet to keep bandages on, imagine what it’s like for a wild animal and then multiply that.”

Sometimes the job can leave Zachariah a little frustrated.

“When you deal with wild animals you are limited with what you can do with them,” he said. “The circumstances dictate what I can and can’t do with them. The challenge comes in knowing and understanding the differences between the animals. If it’s difficult for a pet to keep bandages on, imagine what it’s like for a wild animal and then multiply that.”

Brevard Zoo’s deputy director Jon Brangan said Zachariah is making a difference and has earned the respect of his co-workers.

“Trevor has raised our level of veterinary care since he arrived,” Brangan said.

“His education and experience make him a specialist in the practice of zoological medicine. Opening the new HACC (Harris Corporation Animal Care Center) provides us the opportunity to match Trevor’s skills with a first-class facility. Brevard Zoo will now be able to provide the highest level of care for our collection.”

Oscar, a North American opossum, is held by Dr. Trevor Zachariah at the Brevard Zoo. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

MODERN ANIMAL HOSPITAL

Zachariah said he believes the modern animal hospital is a major advance and will improve treatment for the zoo animals dramatically.

The facility opened in February 2012 and includes a commissary where meals for the animals are prepared to suit their nutritional needs; a radiology and x-ray room; a pharmacy; a large surgery suite; large and small animal holding areas; recovery stalls; prep areas; an intensive care room with separate thermostat controls and incubators; a pathology lab and post-mortem area; and ample storage for medical equipment.

According to the Brevard Zoo, the new animal hospital cost $1.6 million and has been designed using green techniques.

“The animal hospital is a state-of-the-art facility. And we want the public to know that we are always grateful for donations of even more medical equipment.”

“The animal hospital is a state-of-the-art facility,” said a Zoo spokesperson said. “And we want the public to know that we are always grateful for donations of even more medical equipment.”

Assisting Zachariah in treating the animals are Brevard Zoo vet tech Beth Nasse, veterinary students on externships at the zoo, vet tech students attending community college and maybe an a pre-vet medicine student or two.

With so many animals on zoo grounds, Zachariah said he avoids selecting one as a personal favorite.

“Some animals don’t like me and others don’t seem to mind at all,” he said. “But I try not to play favorites. I treat them all equally and don’t believe in liking vertebrates over more primitive animals.”

Veterinarian Dr. Trevor Zachariah visits with Hera, a female pigmy goat at the Brevard Zoo. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

WELCOMES CHALLENGING WORK

When not at the zoo, Zachariah lives in Melbourne, and almost has a min-zoo of his own with two dogs, two cats, a king snake, a cardinal, four tarantulas and an aquarium.

Despite this being his initial time leading the care of animals at a zoo, Zachariah said he welcomes whatever challenges are ahead.

“Yes, it’s my first job where I am in charge and responsible for decisions here,” he said.

“It’s all on me. I’m on my own and the consequences of that can be good or bad. The idea is to always be learning and getting better and better with experience. The best thing is that I am doing what I love and am happy to be coming to work every day.”


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