In Conversation With Dr. Gabby Wild, World Traveling Vet Saving Animal Lives

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Dr. Gabby Wild, author of National Geographic’s Wild Vet Adventures: Saving Animals Around the World … [+] with Dr. Gabby Wild Gabby Wild Gabby Wild, DVM was just four years old when she decided she wanted to travel the world to help heal animals. In her National Geographic book releasing […]

Gabby Wild, DVM was just four years old when she decided she wanted to travel the world to help heal animals. In her National Geographic book releasing on March 9, 2021, Wild Vet Adventures: Saving Animals Around the World with Dr. Gabby Wild, the 31-year-old veterinarian chronicles her extraordinary journey across the globe saving exotic and endangered animals. 

Dr. Wild has pioneered acupuncture for elephants, treated Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees in Uganda and conducted dental work on jaguars in Belize. This informative book, with fun facts and anecdotes about wildlife from all continents, makes for a good read for the young animal lovers in your family. 

In this interview, Dr. Wild talks about her passion to save animals, her charitable foundation, the impact of over tourism on wildlife and ways travelers can help animals.

How old were you when you realized you wanted to travel the world saving animals? 

Funny though entirely true, I knew I wanted to be a wildlife veterinarian when I was four years old after watching Disney’s The Lion King. My entire life I’ve had a love and fascination with animals, especially a predilection for wild places and the creatures that live in them. 

Although I have been traveling the world since I was literally a month old (born in Florida and then moved to Paris, France), the first opportunity I had to center my travels around taking care of wildlife was when I was 16. I’ve always possessed a penchant towards elephants. My incredibly supportive parents knew this, and my mother helped organize for me to go to Thailand and work with His Royal Majesty, the King’s Elephant Hospital and Sanctuary. I was the first Caucasian female to do so and certainly the youngest. There, I started by learning elephant behavior. Year after year, the elephant doctors began to teach me more medicine. They were probably equally as thrilled as my own parents when I told them I had been accepted to veterinary school a few years later.

How does a veterinarian get to go around the world to treat animals? Do you work with different wildlife organizations and zoos? 

Although there are many ways in which veterinarians may do this, my method started through my charity, The Gabby Wild Foundation, which I founded when I was 21 years old. Because wildlife don’t have insurance or the financial means to call in a doctor if they are sick or injured, funds from my charity are allocated to travel and provide medical or surgical intervention for wildlife that are located at partnering rescues, national parks, shelters, etc. The partnering organization sends a submission through my online portal and we try our best to accommodate everyone. We are naturally limited by funding. 

I worked with zoos, museums, conservation organizations and universities. I was an employee of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) based in the Bronx Zoo. A great deal of my training has been at zoos, as learning on captive species is how we apply principles and medicine to the wild ones, even species we have little to no experience with. 

What is the most interesting or endangered animal you’ve treated and where? 

This is such a difficult question! I find so many of them incredibly interesting from axolotls and salamanders to glass frogs and rhinos. Perhaps I will always find treating a shoebilled stork very interesting due to my feeling like I’m treating a pterodactyl. These birds simply don’t look real, and their behavior is so unusual. For example, they will show me that they submit to me by lowering and then shaking their heads when I am able to approach them. I last treated one in Uganda. 

What are some of the most common conditions wild animals face due to over-tourism?   

Tourism takes advantage of the fact that people dissociate themselves from their own reality, and in an attempt to recreate a world and unique experience of a culture, they associate unusual opportunities with animals as something acceptable. For example, when traveling through Asia, I frequently find people able to go on elephant rides or take photos with tigers, especially tiger cubs. These actions are entirely unethical, but often travelers are unaware of the repercussions. 

It should be self-evident that tigers naturally should wish to eat people; in fact, that’s how I know they are feeling better! In locations such as tiger temples, these animals are drugged so people can pose with them. Their conditions are deplorable. Elephant rides often result in severe skin ulcerations from the saddles they are forced to wear and minimal breaks they take. None of these actions allow for the animals to live naturally in peace within their environments. 

People should go and enjoy eco-tourism opportunities like a safari, bird-watching event, nature tour, etc. where they can be a part of nature and not try to force nature into humanity’s whim. 

You mentioned in the book that you had some of your biggest life moments in Africa. How can people help tourism-reliant African nations in the absence of tourism during the pandemic? 

Try to support ancillary industries that promote fair trade and ethical commerce. Some of these companies are “Fair Trade Certified”. Attempt to support the grassroots charities and NGOs that directly involve locals in their decision-making. For example, supporting organizations that help run national parks is one way to make an impact. Just as importantly, spread the word about conservation and human rights.

You had an interesting section in the book called Culture Connection. Drawing from your experience, what human-animal connection have you found the most profound? 

My personal human-animal connection would hands-down be that with elephants and Sumatran rhinos. That of cultures with animals, I would invariably say that the more a nation is developing, the more they are in touch with nature because they rely on the organic way of the world to aid them with crop production, for example. I anecdotally find these people treat it with respect (even if they are more prone to bushmeat practices), and they interact more with wildlife. However, these scenarios also lead often to human-wildlife conflict if not safely mitigated. 

Who inspired you to be a traveling wildlife vet?  

Without sounding cheesy: my professors. They provided me with the tools about how to treat wildlife, and then from there I went out into the world and did it. Dr. Jane Goodall is my conservation role model, and Dr. Rosalind Franklin for her scientific endeavors and perseverance. 

My mother and father will always be my main role models. My mother is one of the most selfless people and is always giving to others and standing by what she believes in, and my father was an infectious disease doctor who gave all of himself to help his patients. His experience as one of the first AIDS doctors and how he would relate to all peoples and cultures in order to treat them inspired my own journey. 

How often were you traveling for work and what have you done since COVID shut down international travel?  

That varied depending on my availability and funding. When needed abroad, I try to schedule as many international groups within the same geographic range, country or continent as possible. I will even reach out to partners who may not have sent me a submission to let them know I will be nearby so that we can stretch donor dollars as far as possible. 

In the past year, I’ve taken the CDC guidelines very seriously and have ceased all international travel. It has allowed me to focus on other aspects of conservation, such as education and outreach, but it has been frustrating to not be out in the field. My wings are sore!

Is there any place you haven’t yet been to and dream of visiting when this is all over? 

Greenland! Tasmania!

Any advice for travelers on how to help protect animals on their trips? 

As the veterinary mantra states: do no harm first. If you see exotic cuisines on a menu or see caged animals at a market, find ways to report it to CITES. The illegal trafficking of wildlife is rampant. 

Knowing that we are losing our wildlife at an alarming rate (26% of mammals, 41% of all amphibians, 30% of sharks and manta rays and 13% of all bird species are at risk of extinction), please do your part in being their advocate. Not to mention, this exposure of wildlife to human populations is quite frightful. Over 75% of emerging diseases (i.e., diseases like Ebola, COVID, Hendra virus, influenza, Zika) are zoonotic. It isn’t the smartest idea to willingly expose oneself to potentially life-threatening illnesses and then risk spreading it across the globe. I dare say we have all had enough…

You can find Wild Vet Adventures: Saving Animals Around the World with Dr. Gabby Wild wherever books are sold.

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