Caring for the Zoo
In June of 2022, the Erie Zoo’s long-term and beloved Lead Veterinarian Dr. PJ Polumbo retired after over 30 years with the zoo. Proceeding her is Dr. Jenna Epstein, who took her position with the Erie Zoo after pursuing a career in zoological veterinary medicine. Dr. Epstein received her doctoral degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Wisconsin in 2019. During her clinical year of veterinary school, she worked for the Brookfield Zoo in IL, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD. After graduating from veterinary school she worked at the Fort Worth Zoo in Fort Worth, TX. “I’ve known I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was three,” said Dr. Epstein, “[But] it wasn’t until I took a trip to South Africa during my undergrad that I knew I wanted to specialize in zoological medicine.” Dr. Epstein reflected on the great passion she felt when she witnessed the conservation and research efforts that were being made in South Africa. She took this passion back home and found that by working with zoos she could conduct essential research on threatened, endangered, and generally under-researched species—which has landed her here at the Erie Zoo!
In this new role Dr. Epstein and her veterinary technicians, Ashley Kuhn and Zoie Barber, make up the Erie Zoo’s veterinary team, who cares for over 300 animals! But how do they use their time all winter long while the zoo is closed to the public? The season may be at a lull, but for much of the staff here at the zoo, our work never ends – especially in the veterinary world! The off-season is a great time for our vet team to conduct preventative care procedures such as routine vaccinations, fecal and urine examinations, bloodwork, x-rays, and more! Dr. Epstein jokes “The animals in our care have better health care than many of us do!” Between these routine practices and the close monitoring of nutrition, exercise, diet, husbandry, and medical care, our animal residents see their doctor much more than many adult humans do throughout their lives. Having such dedicated and thorough care from our vet team with the assistance and support of the other members of our Animal Care staff (of course!) many of our senior animals here at the Erie Zoo have surpassed their median life expectancy. Our late lioness, Nala, was a true testament to our animal care practices – at 24 years of age she ranked as one of the oldest living lions in the world at the time of her passing. The top-of-the-line care that the Erie Zoo vet staff practices is a large contributor to the happy, healthy, and long lives that these animals live!
Although the practices we follow have proven to be tried and true, the Erie Zoo doesn’t want to stop there. In late 2022 the Erie Zoo received a matching grant of $3 million for a new veterinary center on campus. Currently, our veterinary hospital is throughout the zoo grounds, which limits the veterinary team and the species they are able to treat in the hospital. A centralized vet center will allow us to take our care to the next level. Plans include a surgical suite, treatment room, ICU, radiology suite, CT Room, and quarantine space—and these are just the basics! We hope to include top-level imaging technology that is compatible with a large range of animals, as well as an ultrasound machine. Additionally, there are wish list items, like a portable x-ray so we can take it to the animals that we cannot transport into the vet center or perform x-rays on animals that are awake and trained to allow us to take images! (Did you know several animals at the zoo are trained to participate in their own healthcare?) This new space and tools will allow us to expand our veterinary care for the zoo’s residents. Additionally, Dr. Jenna Epstein looks to contribute to the world of research; with the right tools and technology, we can focus some of our time furthering the understanding of these animals worldwide. This research can be shared amongst the zoo and conservation world, and in theory, can assist in discoveries and in conserving and protecting threatened and endangered animals!
If you are interested in donating toward our new veterinary facility, you can make a donation by visiting our website at www.eriezoo.org/#/donation or by contacting our Director of Development, Scott Mitchell, at SMitchell@eriezoo.org. Remember! We need to raise $3 million to match the state grant we received for this project, so support from our community is essential to making our dreams come true and taking the Erie Zoo to the next level in veterinary medicine. We hope that you will join us on this exciting journey!
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to stay up-to-date with our monthly member e-newsletter from the Erie Zoo! Thank you for reading!