Katharina Seilern-Moy works as a wildlife veterinarian here at ZSL.
What is your role and what do you do?
I am a wildlife veterinarian at the based within the Institute of Zoology at ZSL. Garden Wildlife Health is a collaborative project between the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Froglife, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which aims to monitor the health of, and identify disease threats to, British wildlife.
Our main focus is on garden birds (including birds of prey), amphibians, reptiles, and hedgehogs. As a Citizen Science project, we count on the help of the public to submit reports of sick or dead wildlife and to potentially submit carcasses for post-mortem examination so we can learn more about the various conditions affecting British wildlife.
What’s the best part of your job?
Having spent a few years focusing on a single disease in a single species as part of my PhD (elephant herpes virus), it is really fascinating to take a few steps back and to look at the bigger picture again. My daily work now involves all these various species and many different types of pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites or non-infectious agents).
Most importantly, I find myself in the fortunate position of being able to combine many different aspects of this field that I am passionate about: wildlife disease surveillance and research, wildlife pathology, training and supervision of students in different stages of their education, coordinating a research project, and engaging with a large group of wildlife enthusiasts at national and international conferences and meetings. It is just very varied and colourful.
Why did you choose to work in conservation?
I always had a natural curiosity about the diverse creatures inhabiting this planet and a fascination in how they adapt to their surroundings and needs, why they are what they are, and how diseases may affect them. And as a veterinarian with a passion for wildlife, I felt a strong drive and responsibility to engage in their conservation, in enhancing our knowledge and awareness of wildlife, and to hopefully inspire young science enthusiasts to do the same. This was somehow always a part of me.
What did your career path look like?
As mentioned, wildlife and its oddities always were my main interest and studying at the Veterinary University Vienna, Austria, I had the great opportunity to specialise in Conservation Medicine. After a year of working in a mixed animal practice, I decided that it was time to be part of the change, to actively participate in wildlife conservation from a medical and research perspective. To me, that meant learning how to pursue and communicate research in order to learn more about the many issues our wild animals are facing and to pass that information on. What better way to do so than through a PhD?
So, I moved to the UK and pursued my PhD on Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus infection in Asian elephants, a condition considered to challenge the overall sustainability of that charismatic species.
Since September 2016, I have been part of the Institute of Zoology as Wildlife Veterinarian & Research Associate for the Garden Wildlife Health project, analysing the impacts of infectious and non-infectious diseases on animal welfare and populations of garden wildlife.
What’s been the most challenging part of getting to where you are today?
There are of course many challenges we face when striving for our dream job. I think one of the more difficult parts in my career path so far, however, was to accept that sometimes we need to make tough decisions and realise that dreams can change. Whilst I always wanted to be a hands-on clinical wildlife vet, I have now accepted that my interest and life goals have shifted towards population health and conservation, which means less time “handling a scalpel”, and more data analysis.
Working for wildlife conservation doesn’t look like a wildlife documentary but leads to many days spent at the desk, and I strangely felt that might ‘betray’ my childhood vocation to be a clinical vet. The truth is though, when we realise what our often-changing goals are, then there is no wrong route, you just need to keep on going and remember that every step is worthwhile.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into this career?
When asked this question, I always quote the same sentence: “The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.” I strongly believe that when you are one of the lucky people with a vocation, a dream, then go for it and never give up. The route to becoming a wildlife vet or to work in conservation might be competitive and challenging, the career itself at times exhausting and not as glamorous as often believed, but it is a wonderfully rewarding path where one is always accompanied by the most incredible and passionate colleagues. I’d do it all again.
Feeling inspired by National Careers Week? Fancy learning more about the role of a vet at the zoo? If you’re aged between 13-18, take a look at our popular Zoo Veterinary Careers Day course, a one day experience with practical activities to help you learn all about what our vets do here at the zoo, including a behind the scenes tour!
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