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I was pleased to be invited to serve as Guest Editor for Section 1 of Volume 41 of the International Zoo Yearbook (IZY): Animal Health and Conservation. Given the importance of the IZY to the zoo community, it is an honor to participate in its publication. When I was in veterinary college and anticipating a career in zoo medicine, I remember avidly reading IZY articles and reviewing the collections of the zoos of the world (and never thinking that I would have the opportunity to visit so many of them).

To serve as Guest Editor for this section offered me an opportunity to think about what issues are important in our continually evolving field of veterinary medicine, and to reflect on the changes that I have seen in 25 years as a zoo veterinarian. Some of the developments would have been unthinkable 25 years ago; for example, the use of zoos as biomonitoring centers for emerging diseases. Given the scope of the changes that have taken place, I will focus, albeit briefly, on three developments that I believe have had a major impact on our field in this period: (1) the continuing development and implementation of new diagnostic and treatment technologies, (2) the rapidly evolving role of zoo veterinarians in managing population health in their institutions, and, more recently in the field, and (3) the evolution of formalized training programs that offer structured pathways to produce the next generation of zoo and wildlife veterinarians.

Firstly, it is clear that in 25 years, technology has had a major impact on veterinary medicine, particularly that of zoo and wildlife medicine: new darting systems, safer, more effective antibiotics and new diagnostic technologies (e.g. CATscans, PCRs replacing titers) are but a few. Many of the developments have specific applications to zoo and wildlife medicine, such as safer, more readily reversible anesthetics for large herbivores and other species. Changing management styles have made the monitoring and treatment of many species safer; for example, the use of restraint chutes in elephants and other species, and the training of many animals for voluntary sample collection. One challenge of this new technology is to use it to the fullest while retaining the ‘art’ of veterinary medicine. No piece of equipment can replace judgment that balances the risk versus benefits of each procedure, nor the judgment of when euthanasia is warranted as the most ethical course of action.

Secondly, many felt that a proverbial gulf existed between zoo and wildlife veterinarians, with the former perceived as treating individuals, and the latter perceived as treating populations. I believe that gap has been substantially narrowed, and in many cases erased. The advent of regional captive-management plans offered zoo veterinarians a golden opportunity to review the health of populations and the particular issues that faced them. In the wild, habitat fragmentation and shrinking wild populations (the situation of the 500 Black rhinoceros left in Kenya, for example) created small populations that required many of the same management principles necessary for small zoo populations in addition to sound wildlife management techniques.

At the same time, many zoos were rethinking their approach to conservation. Although 25 years ago, the zoo community was fond of saying that we were ‘arks’ for endangered species, it quickly became clear that the scope of the extinction crisis was too large to fulfill that goal. Although we have been ‘lifeboats’ for some species (e.g. Micronesian kingfishers, Asian wild horses), zoos are beginning to fulfill their potential as ‘arks’ in their unique ability to connect the public to the wild, and use that connection to support in situ conservation. For some, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, this has been a long-term commitment. Many others, for example, my own institution's WildCare Institute, are also making new and increased connections with wildlife conservation. For zoo veterinarians, this is an unprecedented opportunity to participate not only in the challenges and rewards in practicing medicine on individual animals but also in preserving wild populations. The WCS has led the way with its Field Veterinary Program. Others, such as our WildCare Institute, have worked on biomedical surveys of lemurs in Madagascar and health monitoring of the Galapagos Islands' avifauna. These studies monitor the present health of wild populations and offer a baseline for future comparisons as the environment changes.

Finally, as our knowledge base grows exponentially, it is critical that our training programs keep pace. The volume of information is too massive to be passed along in informal ‘apprenticeships,’ but should be done in organized, multi-year programs that feature clinical and research experience, combined with more traditional training (often associated with a college of veterinary medicine). In North America, the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM), a board certification specialty approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, has played a central role in this effort. I believe that these formal training programs are the single most important step in maintaining our profession's progress and assuring that the best and the brightest students are included in our future.

As zoo and wildlife veterinarians, we must always remember that animal welfare is the central tenet to our practice and ethics. It is difficult to tell what the next 25 years will bring, but given the unquestionably massive scale of the extinction crisis, I believe we must extend that tenet not only for individuals but also to animal populations as a whole. Zoo and wildlife veterinarians are well positioned to not only fulfill the technical aspects of the practice of veterinary medicine but also to be integral members of the overall team needed to rescue many endangered species from the brink of extinction.