Vetting the vet: Q&A with animal expert Jan Ramer

Across several states and multiple countries, veterinarian Jan Ramer has built a successful career caring for animals and working for the welfare and conservation of endangered species. Ramer, from Indianapolis, has worked as a regional manager for Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda and an animal keeper at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, among other jobs. Now, she is the vice president of The Wilds, a safari park and conservation center in Guernsey County. She gave Southeast Ohio a brief glimpse into her experiences through the years:


“I was a keeper at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago for 10 years after [working at] the Indianapolis Zoo. But during that time, I still really enjoyed working with the veterinarians and thought about veterinary medicine … After a 12-year career as an animal keeper, I decided to go to veterinary school. I did my veterinary degree at the University of Wisconsin.”


“We don’t just treat one species. We have to know the physiology and anatomy of quite a wide range of species, including things as diverse as birds, reptiles, sometimes even invertebrates … What do they eat? What is the micro flora in their gut? How does that particular physiology react to the drugs that I might give it to go to sleep or treat an illness? Even within mammals, there are differences in how these animals react to some of the drugs that we administer. So it’s lifelong learning for all veterinarians, but especially so in wildlife veterinarians.”


“We do work on individual animals as needed when there’s a life-threatening injury or illness. But we also used a ‘One Health’ approach. So we are very aware that we can’t save gorillas without looking after the health and welfare of people and animals outside the park.”


“[My daughter] announced in late 2014 that she was going to have a baby and I was going to be a grandmother. I needed to come back to be close to my grandson … So I moved from Rwanda to Ohio in January 2015 and started my job here at The Wilds.”


Jan Ramer has nearly 40 years of experience caring for animals, as a veterinarian, animal keeper and vice president of The Wilds in Guernsey County. Photo provided by The Wilds.

“One time I was up with a group [of gorillas] called ‘Ugenda.’ And Ugenda himself was the chief silverback of that group, the chief leader. I was looking at one of his daughters who had injured her hand. He took exception to the fact that I was trying to look at her through binoculars. He made a noise that let me know he was probably going to charge, and so I just put my head down and looked deferential. He charged, but he didn’t stop, and he sort of stiff-armed me on the shoulders and I went flying into the bushes. That really surprised me. I was not hurt, and all he was doing was showing me that he was in charge … When I stood back up, he was fine. We were appropriately deferential for the rest of the visit, and all was well.”


“I had a team [while working in Rwanda] of international veterinarians from three countries that don’t necessarily get along, but those veterinarians put all of that aside and became a very, very dedicated, brave and cohesive team to look after the gorillas in all three countries. That just melted my heart … But really, the rewards of the job far exceeded the challenges.”


Southeast Ohio strives to spotlight the culture and community within our 21-county region and aims to inform, entertain and inspire readers with stories that hit close to home. Southeast Ohio is the first student-produced regional magazine in the country. Every semester, approximately 25 students enrolled in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism produce an issue of the magazine, which is published in print twice a year. The staff generates story ideas, conducts interviews, writes stories and designs the magazine in only 15 weeks. The magazine has won several Regional Mark of Excellence Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.