Rhinos and elephants, giraffes and chimpanzees and many, many more, are all in a day’s work for Animal Science senior Christian Capobianco.
Capobianco has been working at Zoo Miami as an animal health intern for about a year and a half during school breaks. He has been able to take what he’s learned at CALS and use it in a professional setting each day — and, as he puts it, “every day is different at the zoo.”
How did you get interested in zoo medicine? Why are you passionate about that subject?
When I was younger, I visited a zoo for the first time and absolutely fell in love with exotic animals. As I grew older, I wanted to work with animals but didn’t know in what capacity. I then decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian for a zoological facility in order to help treat the facility’s collection. Zoos have many functions that some people are unaware of. They are not in place for the entertainment of humans. They are there to help conserve certain species that are vulnerable or endangered. I have seen firsthand the effect that poaching has had on rhino populations in South Africa, and zoos have important species survival plans to try to conserve animal species at risk. Zoos also help by performing research on disease processes, nutrition, etc., to help other zoo populations and populations in the wild. The final purpose of zoos is to educate and inspire people. I hope to inspire future generations to conserve our animal species and maybe even work in this field, just as I was inspired when I was younger.
Describe what it is like working with an elephant. What’s your favorite animal to work with? Most challenging?
Working with elephants is interesting. They can obviously be very dangerous (after all, all animals are still wild animals), so they are trained to perform certain natural behaviors that allow the veterinary staff to assess different body parts with limited physical touch. Normally, my job during these exams is to observe, document physical exam findings and assist the veterinary team by providing them with equipment as needed. My favorite animal to work around would probably be rhinos. I find them so fascinating and majestic. They are also highly endangered in the wild, and if the poaching situation does not change drastically, they could be extinct in 10 years or less. It is a sad situation, but educating the public on these issues is definitely the first step. The most challenging animals to work with for me are reptiles (especially under anesthesia). Reptiles lack a diaphragm, so they normally stop taking breaths under anesthesia. For that reason, it is necessary to intubate them and breathe for them for the duration of the procedure.
What was your coolest/most interesting day on the job?
The coolest day on the job for me was pretty recently when I was involved in the immobilization of a Malayan tapir. This animal was immobilized to place implants in the surrounding membranes of his eyes to treat lesions. I was given a lot of responsibility during this procedure and was tasked with monitoring anesthesia as well as administering subcutaneous injections. I was even able to teach some of the newer interns how to give the injections. It was a very cool procedure and is something that I’ll never forget.
What was your most challenging day on the job?
My most challenging day on the job was actually just a few months ago when we had a long list of procedures in the morning. We performed ultrasounds on a black and white ruffed lemur, a cotton-top tamarin, and a ferret before lunch! It took a lot of hard work, but everyone worked so well together and it helped everything to go very smoothly. We have a fantastic team at Zoo Miami, and I am able to learn new things from everyone all the time, even during busy days! It certainly goes to show how quickly you need to be able to adapt to each new animal that comes in!
What are your long-term goals? How is CALS helping you reach them?
I am planning to hopefully attend veterinary school at NC State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. CALS has been a fantastic resource for me by providing me with a great education, awesome experiences and incredible mentors. I have been fortunate to be an undergraduate TA in the Animal Science Department to help others to learn while solidifying my own knowledge. The college also provided me with an opportunity to study abroad in South Africa, which I did in May of 2017. These are just a few of the opportunities provided by the department that have enabled me to move towards my goals!
What are your best networking tips for other students?
I have talked to students in the past about networking and the biggest piece of advice that I can give is to connect with as many people in the field as you can and share your passion with them. Whether through online networking platforms or at conferences, don’t ever be afraid to introduce yourself and talk to them about your interests and goals. Also, if you have a job and work with someone in your field of interest, don’t be afraid to talk to them as well! They may know of someone who may be doing research in that area or who works at your dream job! These are the people that you want to meet. No one is going to open doors for you, so networking is a good way for you to at least get your foot in the door.