Women in Science: the wildlife vet

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Meet some of ZSL's female researchers and conservationists to discover more about their roles and what advice they would give anyone interested in pursuing a career in conservation science.

Tammy Shadbolt is a wildlife vet based within the Institute of Zoology at ZSL.

Wildlife vet Tammy Shadbolt at a dormouse release site
Tammy at a dormouse release site

What does your job involve? 

I am a wildlife vet and research associate for the Disease Risk Analysis and Health Surveillance (DRAHS) team at ZSL.  I am involved with lots of different projects and people who are working to save endangered British species including various mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.  My role involves advising on how to keep animals healthy during a conservation intervention such as a reintroduction.  

My job is very varied – no two days are the same! One day I might be accompanying butterflies on a journey to ensure they remain well during a translocation, the next I might be carrying out clinical veterinary examinations on dormice before they can be reintroduced into the wild, and the next I could be conducting a post-mortem examination on a red kite looking for clues as to whether it has been shot, poisoned or died from infectious disease.

I also carry out research into disease problems, write reports and teach students the art and science of working with wildlife!

Why did you choose to pursue a career in veterinary science?

I actually wanted to work in conservation before I wanted to be a vet!  I was inspired by David Attenborough and fascinated by the natural world.  

If I am honest, I chose veterinary medicine because I wanted to understand animals in as much depth as possible but also because it seemed it would be a huge personal challenge!  I hoped by following this path it would lead me back to conservation one day as a wildlife vet and it did!

What's the best thing about your job?

I love the diversity of my work!  I am lucky to have gained further training in veterinary conservation medicine, wild animal health, Non-Government Organisation (NGO) management, veterinary education and doctoral research, and I am able to use this knowledge, understanding and skills every day in my job. 

I care about all the individual animals that I work with, but the role also requires me to think about complex issues facing threatened populations and whole ecosystems.  The opportunity to play a tiny part in the big conservation challenges facing our planet feels like a huge responsibility and an enormous privilege.

What advice would you give anyone wanting to work in conservation science?

I think passion, fascination and curiosity are key ingredients to pursuing and enjoying a career in conservation.  A degree of tenacity is needed to train as a wildlife vet and to find jobs in the field.  There is also a certain gravitas and complexity to the work which means it can be tough at times both physically and mentally, so a growth mindset is essential.

I would advise anyone considering a career in conservation to reach out, talk to as many people as possible and take opportunities to experience the different ways you can work in this field. Then listen to your intuition.  If it excites and enthuses you – go for it – the natural world needs you!

Examination on a dormouse under general anaesthetic
Tammy examining a dormouse under general anaesthetic

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