Meet the Marwell Vet Team!

Here at Marwell, we are lucky to have a dedicated on-site vet team offering such diverse areas of expertise. Many other zoos must rely on weekly vet visits, with keepers taking on the roles of nutritionist, behaviourist, and registrar, alongside meeting the daily needs of the animals.

From their favourite memories at Marwell, incredible animal encounters, journeys around the globe, and how they've each pursued their passions, our team will inspire you (and your little ones!) to appreciate the wonders of the natural world.

As well as clinical assessments and procedures, the Marwell vet team works to advise on best practice around animal care, welfare, preventative health, breeding management, behaviour, nutrition, ethics, and many other areas. There is a huge focus on ensuring life-long positive welfare is experienced by animals living at the zoo. 

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Dr Justine Shotton, Veterinary Services Manager and Veterinary Surgeon

“A typical day at Marwell does not exist (!) but we tend to check cases in the morning, possibly performing examinations or testing. We have daily rounds to discuss cases, and for me there is also managerial work supporting my diverse team.

“Zoo vets have to be able to assess and treat any species that come our way, which is extremely exciting and sometimes challenging. During certain procedures I still get that feeling of ‘wow… I’m anaesthetising a snow leopard!’

“I remember operating on my first snake – they are amazing animals as their organs are all in a row throughout their long bodies. It always fascinates me how diverse the animal kingdom is, and how specialised each animal is.

“Work as a zoo vet is extremely different to general practice – the case-load is much lower but generally you see very interesting and infrequent clinical cases as there is a heavy focus on preventative medicine and keeping our animals happy and healthy! 

“I have wanted to be a vet for as long as I can remember. I graduated as a vet from Bristol University with Distinction, having completed a degree in Veterinary Pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, London. I have volunteered for wildlife rehabilitation centres in Guatemala and a small animal clinic in Honduras among many other ventures! My long-term ambition has always been to work with wild animals and support conservation


Sarah Jayne ‘SJ’ Smith – Deputy Veterinary Services Manager and Zoo Veterinarian

“I love being a zoo veterinarian – no day is ever the same and each day brings a host of new challenges. In this job I can go from sedating a rhino in the morning to taking blood samples from a tiny tortoise in the afternoon – I don’t think there is any other job that brings such variety. My favourite species to work with are the birds and reptiles, particularly ‘Ned Stork’ the marabou stork, and the crocodile monitors.

“I enjoy working with the animal keeping team and finding ways to work together to improve the lives of the animals that we look after – they are a caring and dedicated bunch! I have learnt a lot from them since starting at Marwell and made some wonderful friends along the way.

“As well as my veterinary degree, I have a degree in Veterinary Conservation Medicine – this study highlighted the tremendous amount of good work that zoos do for conservation, along with some of the unique challenges of keeping animals in captivity and inspired me to dedicate my career to helping provide captive animals live the best lives possible.

“I am also keen to promote good mental health amongst animal workers, from veterinarians to keepers, and I have given talks on this topic as part of ‘Time to Talk’ week. The hardest part of my job is seeing others around me, understandably, struggle to cope with loss of an animal and not being able to help them. I contribute towards educating people within and outside of the zoo community about the roles of zoos in conservation and towards helping animal workers cope with bereavement.


Jo Reynard - Veterinary Surgeon

“It is easy to imagine being a zoo vet is all about treating exciting animals, however there is lots of paperwork involved. We need to keep databases up to date and keep detailed clinical records. Imports and exports involve lots of checks and paperwork to comply with legislation and keep the animal collection healthy.  

“I am new to the team at Marwell, and it is very exciting to be here. I have been a vet for 13 years, starting out in mixed practice for a few years, then completing a Masters in Wild Animal Health at London Zoo.

“Following this, I moved to the Cook Islands in the Pacific to work at a neutering clinic. I then moved to China to work with bears rescued from the bear bile industry, I lived and worked in China for two years which gave me an interesting insight into Eastern Culture. I then moved to the Middle East for a short stint in a private zoo before landing back in Devon in 2013 to work as a vet at Paignton Zoo for the last seven years.

“In my spare time I love travelling, I have travelled solo around the world twice and worked in many different countries. When in the UK, I enjoy kayaking and walking my dog Revel.


Georgina Constable-Dakeyne – Veterinary Nurse

“I started my animal career as a bird keeper within a large bird collection and this gave me a love for all things avian - the bigger the better! Part of the role was being responsible for administering the veterinary treatments, and anaesthetic monitoring when we had our routine veterinary visits. This developed my interest in veterinary medicine, and I left the bird collection to train as a veterinary nurse. After qualifying I then began an advanced qualification in exotic & wildlife species, this began the long journey towards working back with captive species.

“Our job roles are so varied here which is part of my love for what I do, from treating a tiger one day, to running faecal (poo) samples the next, researching ethical sourcing of meat supplies for the carnivores in our collection, to helping teach children about the veterinary world. No one day is ever the same. This diversity can be challenging but is such an interesting environment to work in.

“Outside of nursing I have an established flock of Herdwick sheep and a large herd of Highland cattle. My passion is for farming animals in the most natural way possible and I have animals that assist with conservation grazing projects. Education of the public with regards to production food sourcing is one of my drives for farming and this has assisted with tasks taken on within my current roles as a zoo veterinary nurse.


Wendy Irvine - Veterinary Nurse

“As one half of the vet nurse team here at Marwell, I have to be ready to jump into action, whether that is responding to a medical emergency for one of the park’s animals or helping the team research the most appropriate medicine treatment or equipment.

“There will likely be faecal (poo) samples to test on a daily basis, which I find more exciting than you might think! On the days when we have procedures planned, we can be either in the vet surgery, or out and about in the park doing health checks, blood sample collection, treatment support or full general anaesthetics alongside our amazing, and adaptable, animal keepers.

“I also help organise work experience placements for keen vet students and contribute to our vet student programs that we provide for Surrey University. It is a privilege to encourage these students as they have the potential to make a huge positive impact on wild and captive animal welfare.

“As well as the animals, there are also some pretty special and inspiring people that work here too and working alongside them is a daily perk. 


Dani Free – Animal Behaviourist

“The role of Animal Behaviourist covers three key areas: animal welfare, including providing a positive lifetime experience and monitoring welfare; animal training, to improve welfare and for veterinary or husbandry reasons only; and research (both internally and externally).

“My favourite part of my role is definitely animal training. Working cooperatively with the animals to achieve things which will ultimately benefit their health and welfare is both exciting and motivating, and I get the same buzz when the Animal Keepers succeed with training too.  

“I started my career on a completely different path with a degree in Ancient History. It was only after seeing a wild tiger in India that I realised my passion lay in wildlife conservation and I re-trained with a degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare. In 2013, I applied for the brand-new Master of Research (MRes) in Wildlife Conservation, run jointly by Marwell Wildlife and the University of Southampton, which in 2014 resulted in my joining Marwell, first in the Conservation Team then later moving to the Vet Team.

“Outside of work I enjoy wildlife photography, wildlife-focused travel, birdwatching, and fossil hunting with my husband and two dogs.


Debbie Pearson - Animal Registrar

“I have learnt and am learning so much, not only about our animals, but the animal kingdom as a whole and I get to work with a fantastic team of people as well.  I could not imagine myself in a job role that didn’t involve animals in some way and that is why I love my job. 

“The part of my job that I enjoy the most is looking back through historical records that we have and seeing species that we have previously had in the collection. I also like trying to piece together any gaps in the information that we have on file.

“My role at Marwell includes managing information for all of our individual animal records, inputting data from keeping staff daily reports into the global data base ZIMS, (Zoological Information Management System), and sharing data with other organisations worldwide for various reasons (studbook requests, historical data, medical histories etc.), among other things!

“One great memory was the filming of Fierce Creatures at the zoo. That was an interesting day and I got to have lunch with some famous celebrities. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the final film cut!


Jackie Squires - Zoo Animal Nutritionist

“From an early age, I remember saying to my parents that I wanted to go and “save the elephants in Africa”. I’ve still not quite made it to Africa, but I am doing the next best thing, which is working as a zoo animal nutritionist for our wonderful collection of species at Marwell!

“The last 15 years have seen huge change in the ways we feed animals in our collection and the diets themselves. Our knowledge of nutrition has improved significantly, and diets are designed to match those of wild counterparts as closely as possible – both in terms of ingredient and nutritional composition.

“I am currently a member of both the UK Nutrition Group and the EAZA Zoo Nutrition Group. As one of a handful of zoo nutritionists within the UK, I am always keen to try and show other collections the work we are doing at Marwell.

“In my spare time, I have two young daughters who keep me busy when I’m not working! They love coming to visit Marwell and seeing the animals (and the new playground!). I hope I can inspire them to love and care for wildlife in the same way that I have always been inspired to.


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