Celebrating Animal Health Care Staff: Stephanie Elliot, Veterinary Technician

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is celebrating National Veterinary Technician Week, October 13 through October 19, by profiling our hard-working animal health care staff, including Stephanie Elliot, Veterinary Technician.

Stephanie with Bald Eagle

Stephanie, when Vet Tech Week arrived last year, you said seeing Kairavi (who just celebrated her first birthday) was your favorite memory. Has that changed this year?

I’m not sure anything will ever top the birth of an elephant!

What was your dream job when you were in elementary school; did you always want to work with animals?

I knew that I wanted to work with animals as early as I can remember. I was drawn more to wild animals. As a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian or a zoo keeper. In high school, I started working at a veterinary hospital and started researching all the different animal-related career paths. I preferred the type of work the technicians did more so than the veterinarians - they were more hands on. And I definitely still wanted to work with animals. Vet tech ended up being my dream job!

Have you participated in any interesting animal research projects this year?

We are starting a large-scale project researching elephant endotheliotrophic herpesvirus (EEHV) to see how animal transfers affect virus shedding in the trunk secretions of the elephants. EEHV is a deadly virus seen in elephants in human care as well as their counterparts in the wild. It can be fatal to elephant calves and there is still a lot we don’t know about the virus. We have five years of samples that will take us a year to process. It’s a very large undertaking, but will give us some critical information to ensure the survival of the species.

What has been your most challenging case?

We had an American bald eagle from a rescue facility with a previous injury that made it non-releasable. We had to do surgery and aggressive wound therapy to get the injury to heal. She spent months in the hospital for pain management, wound care, bandage changes and photobiomodulation (laser) therapy.

Do you have any advice for kids who want to work in animal health care?

There’s not one path to working at a zoo. Start working as a kennel assistant or veterinary assistant to get familiar with veterinary medicine. And also get as much experience with exotic animals as possible. Volunteer at a zoo or wildlife rehabilitation center. Check out the ZOO VET classes offered here at the Oklahoma City Zoo!

Stephanie conducting tiger dental cleaning and exam

What is the absolute best part of the job; what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

There are so many cool things about my job. I love that our zoo is so proactive in preventive medicine of our animals. Medical behavior training is where we encourage animals to participate in their own medical care! We train animals to present a tail or arm for a blood draw or to position for a radiograph. This keeps us from having to anesthetize them for routine health exams and we are able to get more frequent samples when they are sick. I especially like working with the large felines on blood draws. They each have a different personality so we have to tailor to each individual. This allows me to connect with each one on a personal level and necessitates personal growth of my technician skills.

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