Aab Pre-Veterinary Fellow Reflects on Summer Experience

September 4, 2019

For 8 weeks this summer, we welcomed Kailer Riedman, a junior at North Dakota State University, as the 21st Aab Pre-Veterinary Fellow. Made possible through a generous gift from the Aab family in 1998, the program is the only funded internship for pre-veterinary students in the United States. It gives a pre-veterinary student the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the zoo’s veterinary and conservation program to help him or her decide if zoo medicine is right for them. Although not all graduates of the program have gone on to become veterinarians, many have (including me), and all work in some area of public health. A truly special program, the Aab Pre-Veterinary Fellowship is just one more way Monroe County’s Seneca Park Zoo is a leader in conservation education.

Dr. Louis DiVincenti, DVM, MS, DACLAM, DACAW
Assistant Zoo Director – Animal Care & Conservation

One Amazing Summer Internship!

Most students go into their summer internships with the burning question, “Is this career for me?” I was no different when considering if zoo medicine was right for me, landing at Seneca Park Zoo as the Aab Pre-Veterinary Fellow under the expertise of the sole veterinarian, Dr. Louis DiVincenti. Not only was my time incredibly informative, but also extremely revealing. Before I arrived, I had my doubts about the profession. For example, zoo veterinarians have to work with hoofstock like zebra and giraffe, and I was afraid that type of large animal medicine wouldn’t interest me. I also suspected there would be big differences between zoo medicine and small animal medicine, with which I was much more familiar before I started the internship. Fortunately, all these worries were put to rest within my first week. I found that hoofstock animals are extremely interesting creatures and require a completely different kind of medicine that is exciting in its own way. In addition, Seneca Park Zoo utilizes the same Fear Free® practices familiar to me from my previous experience in a small animal clinic (I was surprised to learn that Dr. Louis is actually Fear Free certified®), and I experienced the staff’s consideration of animal welfare in every decision. I also came away from this internship with the certainty that I want to be a zoo veterinarian when I finish veterinary school. Long story short, spending my summer at the Seneca Park Zoo made it unforgettable and without a doubt changed my life for the better.

Even though I can’t pick a single experience to call my favorite, there are a select few that easily stand out. First, while it was not with the animals themselves, the keepers and all the zoo staff were very welcoming. From the moment I entered the gates, I was greeted with kindness and understanding. They taught me how to interact with the animals, embracing my initial lack of knowledge of daily zoo functions, and helped develop a strong insight for animal behavior and welfare. Participating in the routine veterinary care with Dr. Louis was an especially rewarding part of the internship. Examining Chester, the 400lb male African lion, was by far the most exciting. Not only was it interesting to see how  both a physical examination and diagnostic testing are performed on such a large, potentially dangerous animal, but witnessing the vast planning and teamwork among animal health, animal care, even facilities staff to simply moving him safely and effectively was especially revealing about the role of a zoo veterinarian. Chester’s exam, and the time I spent shadowing James, the lead lion keeper, also tied into my summer research  project titled “Determination of pregnancy throughout gestation, and review of contraception methods in the female African lion (Panthera leo).” This project allowed me to hone my scientific writing skills with Dr. Louis, who has authored multiple publications himself.

Pre-vet Fellow Kailer Riedman listens to Chester's heart
Kailer listens to African lion Chester’s heart during a routine physical examination at the Zoo’s Animal Hospital.

Finally, I had the pleasure of working with one of the Zoo’s four elephants, Chana, who has a persistent issue in one of her nails. Because we visited Chana almost every day, I connected with her on an individual level and witnessed her incredible intelligence. That was one of many personal connections strengthened throughout the summer, with humans and animals alike; seeing that the animals somehow knew that I was helping them made my summer at Seneca Park Zoo more rewarding than I could have imagined, and I can’t wait to come back in the future!

-Kailer Riedman

Featured image: Kailer assists Dr. Dawn Dittman during a lake sturgeon habitat assessment and population survey in the Genesee River.