zoo horizontal strip

Meet the Team: International Women’s Day – Veterinary Team

International Women’s Day is a great reason to introduce you to some of the women that work here at Wild Planet Trust. We have lots of exceptional women on our team, and today we’ll be meeting just two of them – members of our veterinary team Ghislaine Sayers and Sonya Gadhia.

Meet Ghislaine

I’m the Head of Animal Health Services at the Wild Planet Trust, but I started my career at Paignton Zoo 22 years ago as their first onsite vet. 

My day-to-day job is incredibly varied and there’s never a dull moment.  When I first started, it was a mixture of clinical diagnostics and treatment with some preventative health and post-mortems; on any animal from fish to megafauna. Today, I do far less clinical veterinary work and am lucky to manage a small team of highly skilled and dedicated people who have the animal’s welfare at the heart of everything they do.

Biosecurity risk assessments for imported animals, carrying out welfare assessments, writing policies and operating manuals for anything from biosecurity to quarantine procedures, teaching anyone from 11-year-olds to undergraduates and MSc students. One important part of my role is reviewing the data we collect and trying to build up a picture of the health and welfare of our collection.  Having evidence on which we can base our policies and procedures makes the work we do more scientific, targeted and effective. 

From the time I was a veterinary student I was interested in the way that changing the environment and the way we live in it has a knock on effect on the health of animals and people. Working at Paignton Zoo gave me an opportunity to work with people who wanted to investigate the improvements we could make to animal health by altering the environment they live in.

Meet Sonya

I am one of two Registered Veterinary Nurses with the Wild Planet Trust. As well as the usual jobs people think of when they hear Veterinary Nurse, such as monitoring anaesthesia and looking after hospitalised animals, my role at the zoo is quite varied. I’m part of the audits, enrichment and training task group, I coordinate veterinary work experience students as well as participate in dormice release programmes to name a few of my jobs.

I’ve always been passionate about working with animals, which is what led me into nursing and then into working at animal rescue centres around the world. Being able to contribute to animal welfare and being able to give animals in captivity the veterinary care they need makes this role vital and fulfilling.

I became a student veterinary nurse when I was 18, working full time while going to college one day a week. After leaving my training practice once qualifying, I went traveling and on returning to the UK started a BSc in Wildlife Ecology and Behaviour. I volunteered at Borneo Nature Foundation which in turn led me to volunteering and working at numerous primate rescue centres within Indonesia, managing and setting up a veterinary clinic in a Sulawesi wildlife rehab centre, helping species rescued from the illegal pet trade. I was then lucky enough to get a locum position at Paignton Zoo and finally became a permanent member of the veterinary team 5 years ago. Since joining, I have also achieved an Advanced Programme of Veterinary Nursing in Avian species and am currently studying for the APVN in Zoo Species.

Participating in in-situ animal projects gave me invaluable experience and shows willingness to get stuck in, with little to no monetary aid and basic equipment availability, and that you are willing to do what it takes to help. But it also means meeting and working with like-minded, inspirational and dedicated people.

My advice for other women looking at a career in conservation would be to try and get as much experience as possible, be it volunteering with your local conservation society or on projects abroad.  These experiences can open up opportunities that may not have presented itself otherwise, and never be afraid to take a chance and do what you really enjoy.