At Auckland Zoo we have an incredible veterinary team. They’re a goldmine of knowledge, with a wealth of expertise, and undeniable experience from New Zealand and around the globe. Our hearts swell with pride when they work to bring a species back from the brink, whilst simultaneously providing world-class care to our Auckland Zoo residents. ‘Lucky to have them’ is an understatement – for the zoo, and Aotearoa’s native wildlife.

This World Veterinary Day we want to celebrate our vet team with you, our extended whānau, and hopefully encourage some budding young (or older!) scientists into a – very – different field of healthcare, conservation medicine!

1. What does it actually mean to be a vet, let alone a zoo vet, at Auckland Zoo? Let me tell you, it’s anything but straightforward. For a vet, you might think making a splint, removing a tooth, or taking an x-ray is fairly typical practice, but with patients ranging from a tiny 100-gram bird, to huge 1900 kg white rhinoceros, the answer is rarely ‘standard’. 

Dr. James Chatterton, Head of Veterinary Services here at Auckland Zoo shares with us some of his extreme cases, and his innovative solutions! Read more here.

2. So, as we’ve just learnt, straightforward is rarely the way forward. A day in the life - still a bit hard to picture isn’t it? Want to actually find out what a zoo vet’s day might look like? Former Resident Vet Dr. Lydia Uddstrom (who I would just like to mention saves turtles and beached whales in her spare time!) teams up with Fanimals Presenter Jess to take us on her outpatient rounds. Today we visit our nyala for some blood tests, check up on our leopard tortoise’s healing wound, and it’s time for our fortnightly eye tests with our fur seals. 


Join Jess to find out what our zoo vets get up to each day!

In this Fanimals episode Jess does the rounds with Dr Lydia to see some of our animal outpatients.

3. So what does a Vet Hospital actually look like? Is it like a real hospital that has wards, with different patients – maybe even an ICU and quarantine? Short answer – yes! There are vets, and nurses, and even visiting expert consultants from time to time, who specialise in things like dentistry, physio, and even ultrasound.

Here you’ll find a video to take a ‘tour’, visit some patients, and you can even see our latest vet news, read about special research projects, and meet the team.

4. Have you found yourself wondering about the kind of reason a zoo resident may have for paying a visit to our vet hospital? Some animals are just too big to ever visit our vet hospital (think giraffe and rhino…) but can still be treated by the outpatient vet, but our smaller residents may visit for something like an annual health check-up, dentistry, or a keeper may have discovered an animal is noticeably unwell (maybe they can’t walk properly, or are off their food).

Kiwi Omeka became critically unwell when she became ‘egg-bound’ (a serious condition for a bird whose egg can weigh up to a quarter of its body mass!) and under-went lifesaving surgery. Watch our video and learn more here

5. An animal doesn’t always need to be unwell to be seen by the vet – our team engages in a lot of preventative health care, especially for our older animals, to ensure they are still in the best welfare possible! Sometimes, sadly, the time comes to make the kindest call, and as Dr. James Chatterton states that “as vets we care deeply about our patients” and that these decisions are made because we care. And although it’s one of the hardest parts of the job to deal with, it’s actually one of the most important parts.

Watch the video below and read more here, as James talks about what it takes to care for aging animals.


How our zoo vets and keepers care for our aging animals

As our senior vet manager Dr James Chatterton explains, with the expert level of health care and husbandry that our animals receive, they’re living much longer and richer lives.

6. Sadly, a lot of our wild patients have often succumbed due to human impact. It’s a sad sight, seeing a beautiful fur seal with fishing twine around their necks. This beautiful 18-month fur seal was found starving, exhausted, and open to infection, and it’s a sad reality of what can happen when we forget or disregard the importance of being a tidy kiwi. Plastic pollution is a harrowing issue, one that our vet team will continue to fight – every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans, and this is found as far as 11 km deep, meaning that synthetic fibres have contaminated even the most remote places on Earth.

We share our oceans with some fascinating marine-life – let’s give it a fighting chance! And whilst you’re on the page, be sure to check out our video featuring Senior Vet Dr. An Pas treating two orphaned New Zealand fur seal pups after being found by members of the public.

7. We often treat wildlife at the Auckland Zoo Vet Hospital that are from all over New Zealand. There have been times (especially during the last kakapo breeding season), where we have had more wild patients, than zoo patients! Our vets find it incredibly rewarding, and a privilege to care for native wildlife, using their skills, but also contributing research to help save sometimes an individual animal, and other times an entire species! Turtles are sadly an all too frequent visitor, and by the time the reach us they are generally critically unwell, as they have often given up and been floating on the surface for a long period of time, before washing up on our beaches.

As Dr. Lydia Uddstrom says, this turtle’s shell is one of the worst she’s ever come across. 


Plastic and twine found in endangered sea turtle patient

8. Diesel spills are another huge threat to any water-dwelling animal. Diesel will break down a bird’s natural water proofing, which allows cold water to get down right into their skin. This will mean it will get cold, sick, and potentially even kill it without help. In 2016, our veterinary team worked with Auckland Council and Wildbase Oil Response to help care for a group of swans affected by a diesel spill in Lake Pupuke. A vet, especially one tending to wild emergencies, may see a lot of distressing sights in their career, but being able help correct the problem, and care for an animal in distress is to some, the most important part.


Lake Pupuke diesel spill swans returned home

Following their rehabilitation at Auckland Zoo, five of the swans who were affected by the Lake Pupuke diesel spill in June 2016 were released back to the Lake. Watch clinical coordinator Mikaylie and vet Melanie prepare the swans for their return home.

9. There are animal-lovers everywhere, but sometimes our love for a species, can get an animal into a bit of trouble. Feeding the birds is a fond childhood pastime for many, but often, it’s bad food with good intentions. Aotearoa’s kākā – the large, beautiful, forest dwelling parrot – is in trouble with a suspected population of less than 10,000 for the North Island sub-species. And the newest threat for our stunning kākā – well-meaning people who are feeding them ‘human food’ – issuing their death warrant with bread, nuts and crackers. When chicks are fed the wrong type of food (human food) it can lead to development of fatal abnormalities.

Last year, our vet team treated a kākā chick that had the deadly combination of signs it was suffering from these abnormalities – and wanted to share this important message.

10. Being able to bring a species back from the brink – it could be said to be the culmination of a person’s life’s work. Known as a bit of an enigma, the kākāpō continues to captivate the attention of Aotearoa as they fight their way back from the brink, in what was a record-breaking breeding season.

Although it was not without its challenges, as vets and experts from all over New Zealand raced to understand how aspergillosis threatened to decimate the remainder of the population. This was the first time in years that a boomer breeding season was predicted and the success of this season would directly contribute to their comeback as a species, so this contribution was more than heart-warming, it was vital, crucial, and with lasting consequences.

If it wasn’t for human intervention, the kākāpō would already not exist as a species today. Watch our two-part documentary Kaitiaki for Kākāpō starting with the video below, featuring some of our veterinarians, vet nurses, and bird keepers coming together to help save a species, and truly understand what it means to be part of our Auckland Zoo Veterinary Team.


Kaitiaki for Kākāpō - Part 1

Auckland Zoo has had a long relationship with the Department of Conservation's Kākāpō Recovery team in providing the veterinary care for the programme and this breeding season we lent our support with bird keepers and our vet staff heading out to the kākāpō’s sanctuary islands.