Working in a zoo is a job many veterinary technicians dream about. For Julia Sweet, RVT, it is her reality. Julia not only works with zoo animals, but takes care of live animals in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Fla. Julia is a member of the veterinary team that is part of Disney’s Animal Programs.
This team takes care of all the 350 animals on Disney property, from the smallest of birds and fish, to the elephants and giraffes. Many of the surgeries and other procedures the animals need are done in the hospital. “However, we have a rule at the hospital: If the animal won’t fit through the double doors, it gets a house call,” says Julia. Then the team loads up the portable veterinary truck and goes to the animals.
The keepers provide all of the restraint for the veterinarians and veterinary technicians when any work is done on the animals in their care. They train the animals to allow the veterinary staff to take blood samples while they are awake. Blood testing is a component of an animal’s wellness protocol.
Wellness is the key to zoo animal health, and all animals at Disney are on a rotating schedule for wellness exams. Veterinary technicians working in the laboratory perform complete blood counts, blood chemistries and fecal exams for parasites as part of the wellness program.
X-rays are a common means of providing clues to an animal’s condition. In Disney’s Animal Kingdom hospital, animals are sedated for their x-rays to ensure stress is kept to a minimum. A human mammography machine provides a way to x-ray even the smallest patient. If a procedure calls for anesthesia, the veterinary technician administers the anesthetic, monitors the animal and maintains anesthesia throughout the procedure.
The animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom spend a majority of their time during the day out on the savannah enjoying the Florida sunshine. But when evening comes, they are always brought in to their respective enclosures for food and shelter. The keepers make sure the animals are trained to come in at night when called. This is particularly important when there is a hurricane approaching central Florida. The animals are kept in their enclosures, and there are “ride out teams,” who stay in or near the animal enclosures for the duration of the storm. Walt Disney World has very stringent building codes, which ensure the animal enclosures, as well as the rest of the buildings on the property, exceed the standards of safety under hurricane conditions.
Walt Disney World focuses on education and conservation. All procedures are done in complete view of the guests. Occasionally, Julia has the opportunity to actually meet with guests and describe what is going on. She always tells her audience she is a veterinary technician and explains her role. She comments, “There is no better time to motivate the public to be better keepers of the world!”