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A Day in the Life of a Real-Life Ringleader

Published on May 30, 2013 by Tiffany Coleman

(BOISE) Think back to the last time you went to the zoo. Did you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes to make sure your up-close experience with animals is the best ever? Have you questioned who feeds and cares for the animals, what a zookeeper’s job is really like, or why penguins are susceptible to malaria? No one has better answers to these questions than Dr. Holly Peters—the veterinarian at Zoo Boise.

“I consider myself the most specialized generalist on the planet,” Peters, who recently celebrated her first year on the job, said.

veterinary technology programOn any given day, Peters can be doing any variety of things. During a recent field trip, biology students—mostly in the veterinary technology program at Broadview University—learned all about the zoo from the inside out. One thing they learned is that penguins are susceptible to malaria because they come from areas where mosquitoes don’t exist. Another thing they learned is that the black and white flightless birds are anything but friendly.

“People think penguins are really nice, but they are NOT! They like to bite, and it’s like a rodeo to round them up,” Peters says while pointing her finger at a small cage sitting on the zoo hospital’s floor. Inside of the cage, an innocent-looking Trixie is receiving preventative treatment for a fungal infection. The zoo has lost three birds to Aspergillosis in the past year. Even though Trixie wasn’t showing any signs of an infection, she was being treated just in case.

Talk of Trixie quickly returns to the discussion about rounding up animals at the zoo. Peters explains that since Zoo Boise is located in the middle of a city, it is the zoo’s policy to ‘shoot to kill’ certain animals should they get loose. The belief is that no matter how valuable an animal is the zoo cannot take any chances when it comes to the public. And all zoo staff members are trained to contain.veterinary technology program

“[Our accrediting body] requires us to drill twice a year,” Peters says. “We actually drill here once a month.”

Another thing Peters is trained to do is tranquilize the animals—even for routine care. She says it’s always best to work on them while they’re out, and she went on to tell a humorous story about her experience with anesthetizing gorillas.

“I’ve been picked out of a crowd,” she says. “They know I’m coming—big cats and gorillas. I’ve even had gorillas catch the darts in mid-air and throw them back at me.”

Humor aside, it takes a lot of effort and hard work to run a zoo. The zoo is home to tons of animals that aren’t on display, and day after day, the job is always something new. The zoo’s vet can take home kittens for round-the-clock care one day and be subpoenaed to testify at a trial the next. It’s very rarely the same thing twice.

“This job is not for people who enjoy structure—because zoo medicine never turns out like you planned,” she says.

But at the end of the day, Peters enjoys her job at Zoo Boise. There are only around 300 zoo vets in the country—and this is the only job she applied for.

“I don’t get paid a whole lot, so I always say part of my paycheck is in tiger kisses,” she says. And it’s not a bad gig—if you don’t mind a little tiger slobber.

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