Virginia Zoo VetWorld Veterinary Day

April 29, 2017

Dr. Colleen Clabbers is the new Virginia Zoo Veterinarian. She is responsible for the Zoo’s Animal Wellness Campus, an 11,000-square-foot medical facility which consists of a full-service surgery and treatment center, Diet Kitchen, ZooLive! Stage, enrichment playground and orchards. The AWC has a full-time vet tech, as well an additional vet tech who splits her time between veterinary technician duties and the zoo’s commissary. The AWC also has a full-time commissary keeper. Dr. Colleen oversees the health of more than 500 animals, and is charged with managing everything from diagnosis and treatment, to preventive medicine, surgery, nutrition and welfare.

“Working as the Zoo Veterinarian here at the Virginia Zoo, every day is different! One day I may be working with the tiniest frog and the next day I may be working with a rhinoceros. We have so many different species here and each one has its own unique feature that requires special care. These unique features make each medical case a challenge that I very much enjoy. I also love knowing that I am helping to conserve these animals for future generations.”

Dr. Colleen says she would love the chance to work with pangolins. Pangolins are currently the world’s most trafficked animal, poached for their meat and scales which are in high demand in some Asian countries. They are such interesting, scaly mammals! There is a lot we don’t know about this shy, nocturnal animal so you don’t see them often in captivity in the US (there are currently no pangolins in US zoos). They are insectivores (insect-eaters) with a very specialized diet.

So why did Dr. Colleen become a veterinarian? “I became a veterinarian in 2014, but have worked in the zoological field since 2006. I began my career as a zoo veterinary technician and spent 4 years caring for various species. I loved it so much that I decided to challenge myself in a different way and become more involved in the medicine aspect,” said Dr. Colleen. “I love to systematically work through cases and I especially enjoy witnessing improvements after treatments are initiated. Working with animals is a bit of a puzzle. You can’t really ask them what is wrong, so you have to piece together parts of your physical exam and diagnostic results to establish a treatment plan.

She chose working with exotic animals over domestic animals because she wanted to be a part of conserving species for future generations. “In addition, the variety keeps my mind sharp and always keeps me learning. I get to work with cases from start to finish. So one medical case here at the zoo may not only involve internal medicine, but also anesthesia, radiology, dentistry, neurology, cardiology, etc. I get to work with a little bit of everything here at the zoo!”

Dr. Colleen moved here from Washington State, where she worked at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. She is originally from Pennsylvania and is happy to be closer to friends and family. Colleen enjoys working with hoof stock, particularly giraffes. In her spare time, she loves hiking and is looking forward to the great local Virginia trails.