The Times

He's where the wild things are

Vet for N.J. safari park gives a talk at MCCC

Monday, November 26, 2007


Special to the Times

WEST WINDSOR -- Dr. William P. Rives has turned down the traditional suit-and-tie, 9-to-5 workday for heavy-duty construction boots, padded gloves and wake-up calls that come as early as 4 a.m., asking for help in delivering a stubborn bear cub.

Rives is director and chief veterinarian of the Six Flags Wild Safari Animal Park in Jackson. He spoke to students and faculty at Mercer County Community College re cently about his experiences at the park over the past 14 years.

"Every day is different, which is why I love what I do," explained Rives. "You're always learning."

Rives began at Six Flags in 1993 as a full-time vet after earning his graduate degree in veterinary science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Rives provided information on community activities the park is involved in, caring for the animals and treating illnesses among the park's many species. The park is doing work on the black bear population in New Jersey. The increase in the state's bear population has led to many confrontations between humans and the bears in suburban and urban environments.

Attempts to decrease the bear population include the use of contraceptives and limiting the number of cubs each female bear is allowed to have.

"Educating the public is a key to conservation," Rives added. "It has to start with young kids," he explained.

Rives also discussed the park's veterinary internship and education programs.

"Out of our internship program, so far we've had about 40 or 50 kids, 10 got into vet school."

The Wild Safari Park is home to a diverse animal population.

"It's not a traditional zoo," said Rives. "We have over 1,000 animals. When you come up with plans, you also have to have plans B, C, D and E."

The health and wellness of the animals was a prominent topic of Rives' presentation.

"With wild animals, they mask all their illnesses because that's how they survive," said Rives. "Stress is a major component in deaths of animals. It causes more problems than anything else."

Pregnancy and birth are closely monitored aspects of the animals' lives that the park staff must keep track of.

"We don't want to overbreed, so we have a population map," said Rives. "We don't want births in the winter or the summer. We plan so we know when we're going to have that baby."

Diagnoses and treatment are very different with animals than with humans, explained Rives.

"You accelerate how you're going to react," said Rives. "You have a small window of time to make a difference."

Managing such a large number of animals is a lot of work. The park has 24 full-time employees, in addi tion to seasonal workers, administrators, keepers and technicians.

"Every species has its own building, its own paddock, its own heat," said Rives. "Everything is about safety. The staff is really helpful; they know these animals."

Diane Hilker, an associate professor of biology at MCCC who organized the speech, said she was impressed with Rives' presentation.

"I attended an all-day workshop for New Jersey biology teachers and spent six hours behind the scenes," she explained. "I thought he had a lot of good information to share."

Kathy Michie, a student at MCCC, said she enjoyed the presentation.

"He was entertaining," she said of Rives. "I found it very interesting to learn all of those animal facts."

2007  The Times of Trenton

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