Santa Barbara Zoo veterinarian Karl Hill signed copies of the children’s book showcasing his life’s work earlier this month, on the day of the Zoo’s Snow Leopard Festival. The man-made snow spread across the zoo’s lawn in honor of the festival provided the perfect backdrop for celebrating A Day with a Zoo Veterinarian, a book dedicated to Hill, who is an expert on the snow leopard and other endangered animals.
Penned by local author James Buckley, Jr., A Day with a Zoo Veterinarian offers youngsters an inside look at Hill’s unique profession: caring for a wide range of exotic mammals, birds, reptiles, and even insects. The book features outstanding close-up color photographs of Hill making “cage calls,” shot by Santa Barbara photographer Michael Eliason.
A Day shows Hill at work in the medical facility at the zoo, where he has practiced since 2002, and offering advice to aspiring vets. (“Watch your pets and see how they eat and how they move.”) His philosophy of preventative healthcare means each animal gets annual medical exams and vaccinations; several of these procedures are documented in the book. Interestingly, elephants undergo considerable training by keepers (using positive reinforcement techniques) to learn to cooperate during veterinary exams, for which Hill uses no anesthesia. Smaller animals are often put to sleep for safety reasons and to decrease the stress checkups may cause them. One chapter documents Dr. Hill’s examination of the now-deceased Napamar, an endangered snow leopard. Hill is shown drawing Napamar’s blood, cleaning her teeth, and mending an injured ear.
Beyond his work at the Santa Barbara Zoo, Hill serves as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ veterinary advisor for species survival for the snow leopard. He also cares for California condors, rappelling down cliffs to the birds’ remote nests in order to examine condor chicks. Hill’s favorite task is “helping a very sick or very young animal recover and have a healthy life.” The vet has raised several orphaned animals, including Finnegan, a baby Channel Islands fox who needed constant care and “survived,” he said. “That’s a story we’re all very proud of.”
Hill must be sensitive to the diverse needs of his patients since, as he put it, “What might help one animal might hurt another animal.” Hill is delighted by the diverse requirements of his job. “I just love that every day is different for me,” he remarks in the book. “I love the variety of animals and that I never know what’s going to happen when I come to work.”