Having been fascinated with all animals, and particularly wildlife, since childhood, David Couper landed his dream career as a RSPCA wildlife veterinarian nearly 20 years ago.

“For me, being a wildlife vet is a great fusion of zoology and veterinary medicine," says David. "My position at West Hatch Wildlife Centre allows me the opportunity to work hands-on with wild animals, while at the same time improving their welfare, learning about the conditions which affect them, and helping the public who have found them in distress.

“Working with wildlife is incredibly rewarding, but it can be daunting thinking about how to kick start your career in this industry, so I’ve put together some of my top tips on how to begin your journey to becoming a wildlife vet.”

How to become a wildlife vet

“Following vet school, I spent a few years in mixed practice, consolidating my general veterinary skills, before undertaking a Master's degree in Wild Animal Health,” David explains.

“The majority of wildlife positions will require a postgraduate degree of some sort. So it’s worth looking around at different Master’s programmes in wildlife conservation and seeing which one best suits your career path.”

Gain as much experience as you can

“You should seek practice with as many species as you can, gaining as broad a range of experience as possible,” David advises. “After my Master’s degree I spent another year or so working in practice with a large exotic animal caseload.

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“I also travelled to Canada as a vet student to work with endangered swift foxes. Actually, recently I have been back to Canada to trap arctic foxes to fit satellite collars, for a study looking at their increased interactions with red foxes as a result of climate change. One of the great things about being a wildlife vet is the many opportunities it opens up – you never stop learning.

“It's so important to take wildlife volunteering opportunities where possible and learn as much as you can. You’ll need a broad knowledge to be a wildlife vet, ranging from the natural history of the different species and what conditions they suffer from, to how to anaesthetise them for radiography and surgery, so getting experience is really vital.”

Expand your knowledge and network

“It’s important to join organisations such as the British Veterinary Zoological Society and the European Wildlife Disease Association as a student, to understand what options are available to you, and to meet the people working in the various fields,” says David.

“You should also try subscribing to veterinary journals and keep your finger on the pulse with what’s going on in the industry. The world is a fast-moving place these days, especially in the fields of science and technology - so it’s really important to stay up to speed.”

What’s it like to be a wildlife vet with the RSPCA?

“The vast majority of animals come in as a result of human activity, whether this is accidental, for example the ingestion of abandoned fishing tackle, being hit by a car, or affected by pollution, or the result of deliberate illegal activity, such as snaring or shooting,” David says.

“On a day to day basis, my job involves the initial assessment and treatment of these animals, advising on their husbandry while in captivity, and assessing when they are fit for release.

“The RSPCA is the biggest animal charity in the country and we deal with thousands of cases every year; some years have seen us deal with over 117,000 wildlife incidents! More than 13,000 animals are admitted to our four wildlife centres annually, rescued by members of the public, our inspectorate and other animal welfare charities.

“We deal with around 200 different species, from pygmy shrews, to grey seals. While all of these animals are interesting in their own right, there is an extra level of excitement to dealing with rare species, such as a barbastelle bat, or unusual visitors to our shores, such as a honey buzzard or Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

“We are an exceptionally busy team and always on the go – working with wildlife is certainly never dull!”

Interested in working with the RSPCA?

If you're interested in working for the RSPCA take a look at their job vacancies to start your career working with animals. The RSPCA also has some fantastic volunteer vacancies that get you hands-on experience with animals too.

Main image: RSPCA wildlife veterinary surgeon David Couper © RSPCA


The RSPCA is the oldest welfare charity around and one of the biggest The charity works hard to ensure that all animals can live free from pain and suffering. Their highly trained officers tackle neglect and cruelty on every level working to stamp out animal cruelty. Animals can rely on them to rescue them when they need us most. To rehabilitate them wherever possible, provide them with the very best veterinary care and to find them new homes, either through rehoming or release.