Living just 90 miles away from Fossil Rim Wildlife Center for most of her life while in Dallas, Jessica Pinckard knew the facility well. She also knew she wanted to get an animal health perspective.
Pinckard, a native of El Dorado, Arkansas who moved to Texas at age eight, was a veterinary preceptee at Fossil Rim from March 26 to May 4.
“I’ve been interested in zoo medicine and exotic hoofstock in particular for a long time,” she said. “I’ve known about Fossil Rim since I was a kid, having first visited with my school long ago.”
She came to Fossil Rim most recently as a fourth-year veterinary student at Texas A&M University.
“When it came time to start looking at facilities to visit during my fourth year, I was looking on the (American Association of Zoo Veterinarians) website for internships,” Pinckard said. “This one came up, and I thought it would be perfect. Housing is provided, which is rare to find, plus I’d be working with the species I was interested in.”
Although she had no trouble staying busy while at Fossil Rim, Pinckard promptly pointed out some of her favorite memories.
“We did the giraffe anesthesia, which is really interesting,” she said. “We did one when I was at the Dallas Zoo, but it was a very different experience compared to this one out in the pasture. The maned wolf pup exams were memorable, because that’s my favorite animal at Fossil Rim, and it was really neat to work closely with that species. I also thought the cheetah exams were really cool, because it’s not often you get to touch a cheetah.”
Shortly before heading back to school, Pinckard gave a presentation to staff and volunteers.
“I’m very interested in diseases, so I did my presentation on important hoofstock viruses and viruses we see in domestic animals that have crossed over into exotic hoofstock,” she said. “I talked about why it is important for people at Fossil Rim to be aware of these viruses; we do share perimeter fencing with horses and cattle. We still don’t know a lot about how these viruses present themselves in exotics, but if you know the basic groundwork of each virus, you have some idea of how to combat it.”
Despite her Fossil Rim familiarity, it is nice to know that Pinckard gained even more from her six weeks on property than she expected.
“This blew my expectations out of the water,” she said. “From day one, it’s been a great experience. Both of the veterinarians are great, (veterinary technician) Allyssa (Roberts) is a pleasure to work with and everyone I’ve interacted with here has been friendly and helpful.
“The experience has been more hands-on than I expected, after I’d also been to some zoos during this fourth year. As I’m about to have to go out and do it myself, I really appreciate the hands-on experience; I’ve learned a lot.”
Associate Veterinarian Dr. Julie Swenson always makes a concerted effort to quiz preceptees, and Pinckard appreciated being kept on her toes.
“Julie runs through the taxonomy of the species here, which is really helpful,” she said. “I would like to specialize in the future and do something similar to what the vets here are doing. You get tested on taxonomy as part of your board examination, so that was really good to go over.
“I’d taken those courses in undergrad, but that was several years ago. If you have a question, either Julie or (Dr.) Holly (Haefele) have an answer or they encourage you to find the answer through your own research.”
The time is now to become a professional for Pinckard, considering she graduated from Texas A&M on May 9 with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.
“It’s a very exciting time,” she said. “I’ve been in post-high school education for 12 years, since I also did a Master’s Degree in Epidemiology and started a PhD. I’ll be joining a private practice for at least this next year and working with exotics.”
Pinckard reflected on how this preceptorship will benefit her, considering her professional goals.
“Being hands-on with the animals, learning anesthetic protocols – especially for immobilizations – and being able to work with those drugs, collaborating directly with doctors and getting constant feedback, understanding why we chose a certain drug, considerations for certain species – these are key aspects for a veterinarian,” she said. “I hope to work with hoofstock, carnivores, birds and reptiles; we got to touch on species from all of those groups during my time here. Being involved in helping these programs, showing dedication and interest, making connections with people in the field are all important as I hope to transition to a residency.”
When it comes to landing a preceptorship opportunity, it sounds like the early bird gets the worm.
“Start early on applications would be my first suggestion when looking for a preceptorship at Fossil Rim,” she said. “I sent an email to Julie in February 2016, and Fossil Rim was already booked all the way through 2017. It’s never too early to put out your feelers. Be open-minded, be ready to work, have a really good time and learn a lot.”
Pinckard can still recall that first visit to Fossil Rim as a girl.
“This place provides a rare opportunity to see these species in this type of setting,” she said. “It’s vastly different than going to a zoo, as you see the animals in more natural habitats with normal behaviors at close range. It’s a memorable experience, plus you are supporting Fossil Rim and conservation with the money you spend here so that some of these animals can be put back into the wild. It’s a gem, for sure.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate