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Oklahoma State University
Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

Future Veterinarian Studies at Kansas City Zoo

Tuesday, May 3 2016

group of veterinarians caring for a kangaroo

Alex Portanova of Somis, Calif., will earn her DVM degree from Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences in May 2016. As one of her clinical rotations, Portanova spent six weeks at the Kansas City Zoo.

In the photo, Portanova (far right) can be seen assisting with the immobilization of a red kangaroo for an exam and dental cleaning.

“It was by far my favorite rotation and I recommend it to any veterinary student who is remotely interested in zoological medicine,” said Portanova. “I had read and heard amazing things about the Kansas City Zoo and I wanted an opportunity to explore the career path of a zoo veterinarian. I was exposed to such an amazing variety of animals. Every day was a new experience and an up-close encounter with a wild animal.”

According to Portanova, the Zoo features approximately 1,200 animals located on 200 acres in the historic Swope Park. It employs two full-time veterinarians on staff, three registered veterinary technicians, a records manager and a zookeeper for in-hospital patients.

“With a limited depth of exotic or zoo experience, I was very nervous about this externship at first,” added Portanova. “However, from the very first day I felt very welcomed. Everyone took the time to explain whatever procedure they were working on, the unique physiology and anatomy of the animals we worked with, and their natural history. This program was rigorous and challenging, and I am leaving with a greater knowledge base of both wild and exotic species as well as a greater appreciation of what goes into running a zoo.”

Portanova knew at an early age that she wanted to be a veterinarian having grown up with dogs, cats, birds, and fish. Once in high school her love of animals, coupled with her enjoyment of medicine and physiology, helped her realize becoming a veterinarian would be a perfect pairing.

“The most important thing that I learned at this Zoo is how much hard work and dedication goes into caring for these animals,” she said. “Caring for and keeping up-to-date on such a wide breadth of species seems like an impossible feat and yet the Animal Health Care Team does it every day.”

Portanova earned her undergraduate degree in physiology and neuroscience at the University of California in San Diego. Following graduation she will join the VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colo., for a one-year small animal internal medicine and surgery rotating internship.