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International Day of Women and Girls in Science

11 February 2017

Today is an ideal time to highlight the contribution of the women scientists in the Zoo’s Veterinary Department in providing high level wildlife veterinary care.

The team includes three women veterinarians: Senior Veterinarian Dr. Helen McCracken and Dr. Kate Bodley and Dr. Sarah Frith, in addition to Head Vet Dr. Michael Lynch.

A woman veterinarian is also the Department’s current Resident, expanding her previous veterinary experience in a two-year program carried out jointly with Melbourne University, leading to an MVSc.

The veterinarians are ably assisted by women vet nurses and specialist women and men vet keepers.

They all work hand-in-hand with the six Life Sciences Departments.

Wild Seas, Australian Bush, Carnivores, Primates, Reptiles, and Elephants all have women keepers in senior roles, and two of the departments are managed by women.

Dr. Helen McCracken has been a Melbourne Zoo vet for more than 30 years, and she has seen quite a transformation during that time.

‘The proportion of women veterinarians here reflects the changes in enrolment in vet degrees. When I started at Sydney University Veterinary school, the class was 50% women for the first time, but now vet students are about 90% women.

‘As well as having more women in our Department now, there are many more women keepers too, so clearly women are seeing the opportunities in working with wildlife.

‘Our work is fascinating and challenging, and every day is unpredictable.

‘One day we may be going out with Wild Seas keepers to rescue an entangled seal, which might need to be brought back to the Zoo for rehabilitation.

‘On another day we may be collecting blood from an elephant or disinfecting the eggs of the Lord Howe Island Stick Insects so they can go overseas to set up an international endangered species breeding program.

‘Or we could be anaesthetising a small lizard with an eye problem or giving a checkup to a gorilla being transferred to another zoo.

‘When it comes to the ongoing daily monitoring of every animal here, of course we rely on our keeper colleagues to alert us to any sign of an animal that might have an injury or look not quite well, so we can consider what might be causing the problem.’