Wildlife veterinarians are natural one-health advocates as they work at the interface of human, animal, and environmental health. For insights into this line of work, AVMA News spoke with four wildlife veterinarians about their backgrounds and areas of expertise. This is the fourth article in our five-part series.

The versatility of the wildlife veterinarian

Updated January 5, 2023

Dr. Patrice Klein is a wildlife veterinarian based out of Washington, D.C., serving as the national program lead for fish and wildlife health with the U.S. Forest Service. A multifaceted career led to her current position.

“Wildlife veterinarians by necessity have to be very versatile. They have to have a broad skill set so that they can fit into many different situations,” Dr. Klein said. She added, “The wildlife veterinarians have a broad understanding of all the interconnectedness between animals, people, and the environment.”

Dr. Patrice Klein uses a laser on an Eastern box turtle to try to facilitate healing of an injury to the dorsal carapace caused by lawn mower blades, which sheared off a section of the shell. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Klein)

Before Dr. Klein went to veterinary school in the mid-’80s, she volunteered with her local veterinary practice in Long Island, New York, one of the early private practices willing to see exotic pets. By the time she earned a master’s degree in toxicology and her veterinary degree, she had developed an interest in all captive and free-ranging wildlife. She went on to a residency at the University of California-Davis in avian medicine and pathology, which involved mostly poultry but also the burgeoning pet bird industry.

She found her first job as a wildlife veterinarian with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Maryland, doing clinical and toxicology work. Among the programs there, biologists were breeding and rearing endangered whooping cranes in captivity for reintroduction to the wild.

Dr. Klein went on to other positions and got involved in disaster response, including becoming a commander of one of the former AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams. Along with other disasters, she participated in response to oil spills, helping determine how to best clean, treat, rehabilitate, and release impacted wild birds.

Dr. Patrice Klein (at left) works with a field team circa 1998 on a project studying population control in white-tailed deer using an immunocontraceptive containing porcine zona pellucida.

Through the U.S. Public Health Service, she worked on foodborne diseases in game meat and helped develop food safety and zoonotic risk assessments for chronic wasting disease in wild deer and elk. She subsequently joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, where she continued working on CWD disease control in free-ranging and farmed cervids. She said, “A fence line does not stop a disease from being transmitted.”

Dr. Klein also focused on highly pathogenic avian influenza at the interfaces between wild birds, poultry, and humans and helped to establish the prevention and control program for H5 and H7 low-pathogenic avian influenza in the marketing system for live birds.

She is the first veterinarian hired as a senior veterinary medical officer by the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service needed to establish an institutional animal care and use committee to support its wildlife research, and she had prior experience serving on an IACUC as an attending veterinarian while working with the USFWS. The Forest Service also expanded her role to national program lead for fish and wildlife health.

Dr. Klein said what she has seen over her 30-year career is an anthology of wildlife medicine. She said, “I’ve been watching this career as a wildlife veterinarian emerge and expand tremendously.”

In another role, Dr. Klein has volunteered for 20 years with her local wildlife rehabilitation center and has been involved with the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. More of these facilities actually have hired veterinarians to be on staff.

When a member of the public finds a wild animal that’s in trouble—injured or ill—they need someplace to bring that animal, Dr. Klein said. In the case of outbreaks of wildlife and zoonotic diseases, such as West Nile virus or avian influenza, the public will find sick animals—one here, one there—and then wildlife rehabilitators serve on the front lines to provide early alerts of these diseases to their state wildlife agency.

A version of this article appears in the January 2023 print issue of JAVMA.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Dr. Patrice Klein is the first veterinarian ever hired by the U.S. Forest Service.