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7 cool things about being a zoo vet you never knew (don’t miss number 4!)

Scott Citino of White Oak Conservation talks about Sumatran rhinos, Okapis and more

Scott Citino in front of a cheetah poster
Scott Citino in front of a cheetah poster

I thought about becoming a vet when I was a child but quickly gave up the idea when faced with dissecting a frog in high school. So my knowledge about what vets actually do on a day-to-day basis is pretty limited. When it comes to zoo veterinarians, it’s fair to say I knew nothing about the field before speaking with Scott Citino, D.V.M., staff veterinarian at White Oak Conservation, a private conservation center in Yulee, Florida that specializes in rhinos, cheetahs and Okapi.

Here are seven cool things I learned about being a zoo vet from Scott:

1 – Zoo vets do residencies, just like doctors

Scott spent a lot of time on local farms in Northeast Ohio where he grew up, which sparked his interest in becoming a vet. He was initially planning to become a large animal vet but got interested in wildlife medicine during his veterinary studies at Ohio State University. Upon completion of his studies, he did a residency at the National Zoological Park, after which he was hired by Miami Metro Zoo as their Director of Veterinary Sciences. He later went back for a short stint at the National Zoo before coming to White Oak, which is where he’s been ever since.

2 – Zoo vets spend 70% of their day working with animals

A typical day for Scott usually starts pretty early – he typically gets a lot of his morning cases done before most people arrive for staff meetings. Since it’s hot in Florida, he tries to take care of the outdoor cases in the morning while it’s still cool, and then address the indoor cases and office work in the afternoon. He spends about 70% of his time working directly with the animals. He also spends time on training programs with residents and students.

3 – Working with large animals like rhinos can lead to some exciting close calls

I was curious to know what challenges Scott faces in his work with large animals like rhinos. It was hard for him to pick out one challenging moment because he sees them all the time. However, he did share this exciting story about close calls while working with black rhinos in the field:

If you immobilize a black rhino in the field, when they recover, they will frequently try to chase the truck down. They get their bearings about them, turn in a circle and listen. If they hear the truck, they’ll take off after it, and there have been at least a couple of times when we’ve had a rhino horn through the door.”

–Scott Citino, DVM White Oak Conservation

4 – Helping global conservation projects can be an exciting part of the job

Scott Citino helping Drs. Zulfi Arsan and Agvinta Nilam get setup on ZIMS

Scott has been working with the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Indonesia since it first started back in the 90s and was instrumental in helping them bring the first Sumatran rhinos there as part of his work with the International Rhino Foundation. In addition to sharing knowledge, best practices and helping to train the vets there, Scott also helped them get setup on ZIMS on a recent trip. Their Species360 membership was sponsored by the International Rhino Foundation with a grant from Mazuri Nutrition. There are fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, so the work that Scott is doing to help the SRS team is critical to ongoing conservation efforts.


It’s really good to have a record keeping system like ZIMS in small facilities like this in developing countries because the data is so important. Even though the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary only has seven rhinos, there are less than 100 Sumatran rhinos left, so we need to have as much information about them as possible to save them.  Much of what we know about this species has come from the few animals that have been in captivity.”

–Scott Citino, DVM White Oak Conservation, Intl Rhino Foundation Scientific Advisory Board

He’s been part of many of their important milestones, such as the birth of Delilah, a Sumatran rhino who recently turned one.

Videos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary by Scott

Scott is involved with several other conservation projects, one of which is the Okapi Conservation Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a project that was initially started by and currently directed by the previous director of White Oak, John Lukas, who is now the Conservation Manager at Jacksonville zoo. Scott currently serves on their board and helps them out with their website and other technical support.

Video of Okapi in forest by Okapi Conservation Project

5 – Animal records management is an important part of the job

Keeping detailed records on animals is an important part of the work. Scott explains that keeping detailed records on the animals in a collection is key to knowing what works well – “For example, we know when and what type of anesthesia we used, so we know what worked well for that species but also for that particular animal.” This is important knowledge for ongoing care, even if an animal is transferred to another facility.

White Oak uses ZIMS as the animal record system, both on the management side and veterinary side. Since they’d used MedARKS for years, ZIMS was the logical upgrade. “I like ZIMS a lot – it’s been very useful for maintaining our records,” says Scott. Some of the features he likes the best include the ability to keep records, search records, pull data from records as needed for various studies and having multiple people using the system at the same time.

The biggest AHA for Scott, however, was discovering how much easier it is to extract the information you need than years ago when everything was paper records:

What used to take weeks and weeks can now be done in a day, making it a lot easier to write a report or do research. Transferring an animal is a lot easier and greener now too since we can easily share the records with the other facility. In the past, you might send a whole stack of paper that you had copied.”

–Scott Citino, DVM White Oak Conservation, Intl Rhino Foundation Scientific Advisory Board

6 – Animal data science will be an important part of the job in the future

Scott believes that pooled data is going to become increasingly more important for species management in the future, particularly when looking at disease trends and problems. If he’s trying to pull data on the Okapi, for example, it’s useful to see if the problems he is facing are similar to problems with all Okapi everywhere or is there a specific problem here that needs to be addressed.

When you can see what’s happening with a particular species in collections all over the world, you can extract really important information on management of that species – that’s very powerful.”

–Scott Citino, DVM White Oak Conservation, Intl Rhino Foundation Scientific Advisory Board


7 – Zoos (and zoo vets) will be playing a bigger role in conservation

Ratu and Delilah in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary
Ratu and Delilah in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (Photo by Scott Citino)

In the past, zoo vets have primarily worked with animals in captivity in their own institution. However, zoo vets may increasingly become more involved with conservation initiatives as a part of their job as it becomes more important to zoos. Scott believes that every zoo should be involved with in-situ conservation in at least a few species because it helps address public concern and pressure around a zoo’s purpose in the world. It’s easier to explain that purpose when zoos have those linkages between their ex-situ work and education and conservation.

ZIMS data is an important part of that linkage. Scott says, “a lot of studies for wildlife actually start with captive species data – finding patterns and problems and then comparing that to data collected in the field on How do you want to save species with Species360?wild species.” In some cases, like with the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, the data that is collected is as close to in-situ as you can get with a captive population. Since the sanctuary is located in the forest that is the native habitat of the Sumatran rhino, variables such as climate, moisture, and nutrition are nearly identical to wild populations. Having this data in ZIMS will yield critical insights into the relationship between animals and their habitats in the future.

Keep in mind that most animals that are kept in zoos are not from that region. Like here in North America, the majority of animals we have are not from North America. I think it’s really important to have those links with the range countries. Adding more range country facilities to ZIMS would be a great way for this to happen.”

–Scott Citino, DVM White Oak Conservation, Intl Rhino Foundation Scientific Advisory Board

In addition to improving the data in ZIMS with captive animals in near in-situ habitats, from a technology transfer point of view, ZIMS could also help improve the record keeping and record stability at these facilities. Scott explains – “Often they just have one or two people doing everything, so if they leave, the records end up going with them and the new person has nothing to start with in terms of records on the animals – with ZIMS, the records will always be there.”

What’s next?

White Oak just hired an associate vet which is the first time Scott has had a full-time person to help him. He’s hoping it will free him up to do more work on the outside projects in research, training and in situ conservation that he really enjoys. He expects to be traveling more to work on these types of projects in the future.

In terms of future directions, he hopes to see more outreach and partnerships like the International Rhino Foundation and Mazuri that will help get ZIMS out to small facilities in developing countries because the data is so important and will be critical to conservation efforts. Language barriers can be a challenge in some developing countries, so translations of ZIMS to more languages would be helpful going forward. Other items on Scott’s wish list include imaging technology within ZIMS, the ability to interface with PACS systems (radiology, ultrasound, etc.), and mobile device input ability.


About Scott Citino

Scott Citino, D.V.M, is the staff veterinarian for White Oak Conservation and sits on the board of directors for Wildlife Conservation Global. He is also a Diplomate of the American College of Zoological Medicine (Dipl. ACZM) and serves several conservation organizations in a scientific or technical capacity including the International Rhino Foundation, Cheetah Conservation Fund, International Wildlife Institute, Okapi Conservation Project, and American Zoological Association (AZA) Species Survival Planning (SSP). He is a recipient of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarian’s Emil P. Dolensek Award for exceptional contributions to the conservation, care, and understanding of zoo and free-ranging wildlife and is the author or co-author of numerous publications in various disciplines of zoo and wildlife medicine. He holds adjunct clinical faculty positions at the University of Florida and University of Miami, and his research interests include anesthesia, infectious and non-infectious diseases, and reproductive physiology of captive and free-ranging wildlife.

by Julie Yamamoto, Connecting Content for Conservation

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I had the honor and privilege to work with Scott Citino during his tenure at Zoo Miami (then called Miami Metrozoo) and in my nearly 40 year career working with wildlife, I can say without hesitation that he is the role model for all other zoo vets (or any zoo professional for that matter!) to follow! I have never worked with a more knowledgeable yet humble person in my life and I learned more from him than words could ever express. This man is a true conservation hero and if it wasn’t for his reserved humble demeanor, more people, other than those in conservation circles, would know about what an amazing shining star he is!

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