From trimming a jaguar’s nails to rehydrating a wild African elephant or gluing remedial shoes to the foot pads of an injured rhinoceros, former National Zoo director Lucy Spelman has traveled the world to care for animals.
Spelman, a zoological veterinarian, spoke before an audience of 60 Thursday at the Peabody Museum of Natural History about the importance of animal conservation. The fates of humans and animals in any ecosystem, she said, are inextricably linked.
“As a vet, I went through my whole career thinking: animals, animals, animals,” she said. “In actuality, the whole ecosystem must be healthy.”
As only one of 120 veterinarians certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine to treat several hundred species of animals, Spelman — who has been featured on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel — has been involved in cases ranging from broken bones to treating cancer.
One of her most famous cases involved a rare giant panda named Mei Xiang, who lives in the National Zoo. Spelman recalled one time when Mei Xiang held out her paw for a blood sample in exchange for a piece of sweet potato. Another time, she said, Mei Xiang allowed Spelman to get close enough to take an ultrasound of her baby.
“I left the zoo thinking, ‘I love the energy that we can generate,’ ” she said.
Since leaving the National Zoo in 2004, Spelman has been lecturing and writing books on animal conservation. While conservation efforts inevitably bring humans in touch with the wildest, most untarnished parts of the Earth, Spelman said the future of many wild animals depends on human protection.
“Animals matter to us because of our relationship to them,” she said. “We eat them, we trade them for money, we have them as companions. And if they’re sick, we’re sick.”
Three audience members interviewed said the talk inspired them to see the world as a unified whole.
“One aspect [of the world] will affect the others no matter what,” said Mo Lecaro ’11, who intends to become a veterinarian.
Nate Barnett ’14 said conservation efforts, such as protection endangered species, need to become more visible in the mass media.
Spelman’s book, “The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes,” co-edited with veterinarian Ted Mashima, was released in 2008.