Specially trained veterinarians are an essential part of efforts to conserve the nation's wildlife, according to Rep. Alcee L. Hastings.
The House of Representatives has taken up legislation to increase the number of veterinarians specially trained in the care and conservation of wild animals and their ecosystems.
In addition to offering financial incentives to encourage veterinary students to pursue careers in wildlife or zoologic medicine, the bill introduced by Rep. Alcee L. Hastings would create grants for U.S. veterinary schools and colleges to expand zoo animal and wildlife education.
The Florida congressman says his bill, the Wildlife and Zoological Veterinary Medicine Enhancement Act (H.R. 4497), is necessary to shore up a critical shortage in the veterinary workforce that jeopardizes public health and wildlife conservation.
"With an increasing number of endangered species, the introduction of invasive non-native species, and more infectious disease threats, wildlife and zoological veterinarians must be placed at the core of our efforts and be given the resources necessary to protect both animal and human lives," Hastings said Jan. 21 when he introduced the bill.
"We have reached a point in our history when we cannot ignore the importance of protecting America's wildlife," he said.
Hastings attributed the shortage to low salaries, high educational debt, and insufficient numbers of practical training and formal educational programs specializing in wildlife and zoo veterinary medicine.
The legislation cites the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians and National Association of Federal Veterinarians as stating that many U.S. veterinary schools and colleges lack both a comprehensive curriculum and sufficient numbers of formal educational programs specializing in wildlife or zoological veterinary medicine to adequately prepare graduates for a competitive workplace.
According to the AVMA, while some training opportunities exist for aspiring wildlife and zoological veterinarians, such opportunities are not available each year, pay low salaries or stipends, and are highly competitive, the legislation stated.
Hastings says H.R. 4497, if enacted, will develop affordable and high-quality opportunities for individuals who are seeking to become wildlife and zoo veterinarians, spur job growth, and promote robust public health policy.
"My bill will create new positions for wildlife and zoo veterinarians and limit the amount of educational debt for students while providing incentives to study and practice wildlife and zoo veterinary medicine," he said. "My legislation will also advance education by helping schools develop pilot curricula specializing in wildlife and zoo veterinary medicine and by expanding the number of practical training programs available to students."
The AVMA along with the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, National Association of Federal Veterinarians, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Wildlife Conservation Society is supporting H.R. 4497, which at press time in early February had four co-sponsors and had been referred to the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife.