SUAMICO - There are hundreds of animals to see at the NEW Zoo in Suamico, and there is only one person who has the training and expertise to medically treat all of them.
Her name is, Dr. Tracey Gilbert. Known to her staff as "Doctor G," she has been the zoo's only veterinarian for more than 20 years. She owns a private veterinary practice in Green Bay, but is contracted to work part-time at the zoo.
"The majority of what I do is preventative medicine -- vaccinations, blood work, things like that to make sure the collection is happy and healthy," said Dr. Gilbert.
FOX 11's Angela Kelly spent some time with Dr. Gilbert at the zoo, to see how she cares for some of the animals. One of her duties is to trim the hooves of the zoo's two, adult giraffes.
"These guys can be quite dangerous," said Dr. Gilbert. "Those hooves are pretty hard and pretty heavy and one of them kicked at me recently and almost hit my arm and that made me a bit nervous. But, I've gotten used to that."
Doctor Gilbert is also trained to perform surgery at the zoo's on-site animal hospital.
"We have performed cesarean sections, tumor removals, things like that in this surgical suite."
She goes through continuous, extensive training but sometimes, nothing can train Dr. Gilbert for what she experiences as a zoo veterinarian.
"It's very intimidating being as far from you to me with a 400-pound lion who's roaring at you and you can literally feel the vibrations of that roar going through your skin. I won't say my heart doesn't beat a little faster when that happens."
Dr. Gilbert has also had to deal with the loss of animals she's spent years caring for. Recently, an elk at the zoo died unexpectedly in the middle of a surgical procedure.
Test results are pending, but Dr. Gilbert says the elk likely had a bad reaction to the anesthesia.
"That's one of the hardest parts of the job. I hate to watch animals suffer and I really hate to lose animals. You lose them all, but when you lose them unexpectedly and when you know you've done everything you can possibly do, it's of little comfort to have that happen. To watch him pass away and know we couldn't save him was just heartbreaking."
Her heart-filled passion for animals is just one of the many reasons why NEW Zoo Director, Neil Anderson says Dr. Gilbert is making a difference.
He says she's often putting in extra hours, without expecting extra pay. She also takes the time to educate the zoo's other staff, who are in charge of the animals when she's not there.
"All you have to do is take a look during any veterinary procedure," said Anderson. "Look at the staff, look at Dr. Gilbert, look at their eyes. You know they care. You can see the passion in their eyes."
Anderson says Doctor Gilbert has also donated her own money towards the zoo's fundraising efforts.
Dr. Gilbert is also making a difference for the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay. Animal curator, Lori Bankson says Dr. Gilbert has helped save countless numbers of orphaned and injured wildlife at no charge.
"She's just amazing. If we need help, she's always available. She really helps us out with tight budgets and she makes a difference for these captive animals here," said Bankson.
Dr. Gilbert says she's more than happy to help with Wisconsin wildlife at the sanctuary and the exotic species at the zoo.
"It's a very richly-rewarding job and its a tremendous team of people out here to work with," said Dr. Gilbert.
Dr. Gilbert will soon be taking on a new project. Anderson says she will play a vital role in the planning process to upgrade the zoo's on-site animal hospital.
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