Zoo and wildlife veterinarians play an evolving role in regional management plans. Veterinarians serve as advisors, collecting and collating information regarding the medical issues of a species or taxa and making recommendations. Veterinary involvement increases with participation in captive propagation programmes, reintroduction programmes and in situ conservation efforts. With the increasing threat of emerging diseases, veterinarians have increasing responsibilities to these programmes. Many of the factors responsible for the emergence of infectious diseases also threaten the environment and wildlife populations. Understanding the potential impact a disease could have on a wildlife population begins by knowing the current health status of that population, identifying critical health factors and recognizing possible threats. Baseline health information is not always available for many wildlife populations. Veterinarians working with captive populations can build this missing database. This is a review of the ways in which veterinarians have contributed to the collection and collation of information that is essential when developing regional management plans. It includes current veterinary guidelines available to zoo veterinarians in the United States and Europe. Veterinarians can improve their contributions to conservation programmes by expanding their knowledge of epidemiology, wildlife biology, ecology and environmental science and by partnering with those who have this expertise.