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Animal Dreams

A veterinarian and conservationist helps care for more than 3,500 animals at Zoo Miami. | 5 min read

Animal Dreams

A veterinarian and conservationist helps care for more than 3,500 animals at Zoo Miami. | 5 min read

By Mary Brolley,
Photography by Rob Magill

Asked when her fascination with animals began, GABRIELLA FLACKE ’97 paused. “Probably before I can remember,” she said. “But I have pictures and stories my parents have told me from a very young age.”

Encouraged at Bradley by Barbara Frase, professor of biology emerita, and chemistry faculty Michelle Fry and Brad Andersh, she decided to become a veterinarian and conduct research in wildlife conservation.

As an associate veterinarian at Zoo Miami, Flacke works with two other staff vets to care for the zoo’s more than 3,500 mammals, reptiles, birds and snakes. In photo, Flacke performs a rhinoscopy on Aubergine, a pygmy hippo. Endangered in the wild, fewer than 400 pygmy hippos live under managed care in zoos around the world.

Join us for a photo tour of some of the animals she loves.

Why she believes zoos are critical for species conservation:

“Zoos serve an important function in engaging and connecting people with wildlife — people who probably won’t ever be able to see many of these species in the wild. Another vital function is conservation. There are a lot of coordinated breeding programs for endangered animals to safeguard these populations because, for many of them, there is limited to no safe habitat left in the wild.

“There’s also a large component of increas- ing awareness among the public, recruiting people to become interested in science and the planet. Animals that are non-releasable because they’re injured can serve as ambas- sadors for people to appreciate and learn about. Animals in zoos generally live longer than their wild counterparts because there’s no predation, and they receive adequate food supplies and medical care when they need it.

“There’s understandably public concern about stress and keeping animals in captivity. We replicate their wild habitat as best we can to minimize stress and maximize welfare, and everyone would prefer the animals to be in the wild where they ultimately belong. However, the trade-offs are overall a benefit to species conservation, especially as we strive to continually learn and improve animal care and management.”

Tiger Lili

During a stint with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia in 2012, Flacke administers an injection to the cheetah after surgery to remove a tumor.

Why her job is perfect for her:

“It’s a great combination of things. I can do the clinical medicine, I can be involved in research, I am involved in teaching — both undergraduates and veterinary students — and zookeepers, educating them about their animals.

“Zookeepers care for their animals as much as pet owners care about their pets. They know each of them individually, the same way a pet owner knows his or her pet’s quirks and personality.”