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Meet Wildlife Vet Dr. Mark Johnson

Dr. Mark Johnson has a bachelor's degree in zoology from Montana State University, a master's degree in veterinarian science (anatomy) from the University of Saskatchewan, and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Colorado State University.

He is the consulting veterinarian for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project.

Q: Can you give us an idea of what a wildlife veterinarian does?

I work with wildlife biologists to capture and handle wildlife in the best way we can. We work together to choose the safest capture method. I help them anesthetize wild animals and provide veterinary care such as monitoring temperature, pulse, respiration, and watch to make sure the animals are safely responding to chemical handling. I also help people confine and transport wild animals safely.

Mark shows a student how to take a blood sample froma coyote pup. When I'm not handling wildlife I teach courses on how to handle wildlife. I emphasize both animal and human safety. There are many ways we can do our work with animals while showing care and respect for the animal.

Q: How did you become a wildlife veterinarian?

Right after I graduated from veterinary school, I worked with domestic animals in veterinary hospitals, so I could practice what I had learned in school. After two years working with domestic animals I began working with wildlife on a part-time basis.

I got a job at Yellowstone National Park as a mountain lion biologist. While I was there, there was a lot of talk about bringing wolves to Yellowstone. The National Park Service hired me to help them to prepare for bringing the wolves to Yellowstone. When the actual wolf reintroduction began, I was the project veterinarian for that program.

Q: What are your hobbies?

I enjoy hiking and backpacking in the mountains. I will always live among mountains because I like them so much. I like to fish in clear trout streams. I hunt deer and elk in the fall and strive to be a respectful hunter.

Mark prepares to examine this tranquilized lynx Q: What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to work with wildlife?

You need to find out where biologists are studying wildlife and offer to volunteer.

Q: What are your favorite parts of your job?

I have many favorite parts. I like the fact that my wildlife work takes me to wild and beautiful places. Also, it's very special working with wildlife. Every species of animal behaves differently. Every animal teaches us different things. I also enjoy teaching very conscientious approaches to handling wildlife. These days, people want to care for the animals they are studying. In the past we sometimes handled wildlife as if we were in a rodeo. Now we are learning how to handle wildlife in a caring manner that allows us to do even better science. My students get very excited.

Q: What don't you like about your job?

My least favorite part is working with people who are unkind or make decisions just for political reasons. Much of my work is with state or federal agencies or large organizations. The politics can get very complicated and unproductive. I prefer to work with people who like to cooperate, who like to learn, and are happy to share. Another part of my work I don't like is trying to find enough time to do everything I need to do plus have enough time to enjoy the mountains!

Q: Why is it important to release wolves back into the wild?

Reintroducing wolves restores ecological balance to those areas which do not have wolves. It also teaches us the value of wild things and how to live with wildlife.

Q: Could you tell us what a typical day is like for you working with wolves?

I usually work with wolves when they need to be examined for health problems or when they need to be captured or handled. I meet the biologists early in the morning and we drive to a remote location where wolves are caught in traps or being held in pens.

If the wolves are in pens I spend time just watching them to see how they are running (I look for limping), how alert they are, or if they have a wound I can see. Sometimes we actually catch the wolf and I give it a thorough physical examination. If it is hurt, I will clean the wound, suture it (sew it) closed, and give the wolf antibiotics to help fight off infection.

When I'm working with wildlife my time with the animals is brief. I don't have as much time as I would like to sit back and just appreciate them.

Visit Mark Johnson's interview and learn all about animals and medicine.

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