A veterinarian, who spent seven years working at Johannesburg Zoo in South Africa, has been appointed the new head of Bristol Zoo’s veterinary department.
Michelle Barrows will now lead Bristol Zoo’s team of three vets and two vet nurses, treating over 400 different animal species, from lions, gorillas and okapi, to penguins, iguanas and stick insects.
Michelle wanted to be a vet from a young age and volunteered at Port Lympne Zoo as a teenager before studying for a zoology degree at University College London. After graduating, Michelle completed a veterinary degree at Glasgow University in 1998, as well as a diploma in zoo animal management.
Michelle then worked at a veterinary practice in the west Midlands which included working as a vet at Dudley Zoo for one day a week. After a few years she moved to a practice in Leeds and began studying for her Certificate in Zoological Medicine as well as running the practice’s exotic animal clinic. It was there that she honed her skills in treating exotic animals, particularly reptiles.
Michelle explained: “It was a great opportunity to develop my knowledge, but I wanted to learn more about treating birds, so I moved to East Sheen near Richmond where I was able to get a great deal of avian experience.”
There, Michelle took further exams and completed her Certificate in Zoological Medicine, which enabled her to successfully apply for the job of assistant vet at Johannesburg Zoo - fulfilling her ambition of becoming a full time zoo vet.
“It was a fantastic time,” she said, “we lived on the 54 hectare zoo site and were surrounded by animals, we had parrots in our garden and antelope in the enclosure next door. One year wattled crane chicks were hand-reared in one of our out-buildings.
Michelle was soon promoted to head vet at Johannesburg Zoo, as well as having two children whilst living there. “It is a great zoo and I loved working there,” she said. “It also gave me the opportunity to work with wildlife such as rhinos, giraffes and elephants in local game reserves, as well as working on conservation projects with vultures, ground hornbills and wattled cranes in the wild.”
After six years of living in South Africa, Michelle saw the advertisement for a new head vet at Bristol Zoo and decided to apply. “I’d been to Bristol Zoo a few times and always liked it,” she explained. “It was a big decision but my husband and I had always intended to return to England, and the range of species at Bristol Zoo is great, as well as it having a very well established vet department with great equipment, and being in a fantastic setting, so getting the job was a great opportunity.”
She added: “I have a strong interest in conservation and how vets can assist with in-situ conservation projects, so it is great to come and work at Bristol Zoo where conservation is such an important part of what it does.”
Dr Bryan Carroll, Director of Bristol Zoo, added: “We are really pleased to welcome Michelle to the team here at Bristol Zoo. She brings a wealth of experience and will continue to develop our high standards of vet care and enhance our status and reputation as a centre for excellence for exotic veterinary medicine.”
Michelle has now been joined by a new veterinary nurse at Bristol Zoo, Celine Campana. Bristol Zoo’s vet service was established in 1999 and is now a RCVS “Approved Centre for Zoological Medicine”, one of just three zoos with such status in the world.
For more information about Bristol Zoo Gardens visit the website at http://www.bristolzoo.org.uk/ or phone 0117 974 7300.