Why I became a vet for wildlife, and how that gave me power to change the world

Puppies are cute, but it’s the world’s wildlife that needs more vets

Often as veterinarians, we tend to focus on the immediate impact we can have on an individual animal’s health. However, through my journey, I have realized that I did not have to only care for any one animal by providing clinical treatment, performing surgery or preventing it suffered from diseases, but I could also have a bigger impact by working in the field of conservation, saving species populations, restoring their ecosystems, and helping human communities cohabit in balance with nature.

As a little girl growing up in Colombia, I dreamed I had the power to help animals. At that moment it wasn’t clear to me how I could do that. But with time, I realized that by becoming a veterinarian, I could indeed do just that.

Dr. Claudia Brieva, a wildlife veterinarian and my teacher at veterinary school, opened a world of new possibilities to me. She inspired me to work in a specialized, less-known field, to have a bigger impact. Through her mentorship, I realized that I did not want to work with the cute little puppy or expensive race horse, but instead with the enigmatic jaguar and swift peregrine falcon. So, I became a wildlife veterinarian.

The Decision That Changed my Life

Since that day, my life changed. That decision took me over the years down an incredible path, with many unique experiences, from rehabilitating condors and jaguars in the remote mountains of my home country, Colombia, to helping raptors fly again in the U.S. Midwest, to preventing species extinctions and restoring ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands.

Dr. Paula A. Castaño prepares for surgery on a bald eagle (Photo credit: The Raptor Center)
Dr. Paula A. Castaño prepares for surgery on a bald eagle (Photo credit: The Raptor Center)

My career path, and those of other successful wildlife veterinarians like Dr. Brieva, are examples of the broadening and important role that wildlife veterinarians have in conservation, but also in the context of our global and changing society. It is also a good representation of what it means to work in the field of conservation medicine and take this approach to global health and biodiversity conservation. With my experience and this story, I look to inspire young veterinarians to dream big and know that the sky is the limit.

Dr. Paula A. Castaño releasing a juvenile Galapagos hawk on Santiago Island.
Dr. Paula A. Castaño releasing a juvenile Galapagos hawk on Santiago Island. Photo credit: Paula A. Castaño/Island Conservation

Paula Castaño produced this blog post as part of her participation in the National Geographic Sciencetelling™ Bootcamp, at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos, April 2017.

Dr. Paula A. Castaño
Dr. Paula A. Castaño

Dr. Paula A. Castaño is a wildlife veterinarian with an MSc in Conservation Medicine and background in raptor medicine and island restoration. Since 2013, she has been working in the Galapagos Islands with Island Conservation, providing technical assistance to the Galapagos National Park to prevent extinctions, and to ecologically restore Galapagos ecosystems. Currently, she is involved in the Floreana Island Ecological Restoration Project as a Native Species Specialist (especially birds of prey) and coordinates all aspects of the environmental component of the project.
Twitter: @mv_fauna
LinkedIn: Paula A. Castaño
Facebook: Paula Castaño


  1. Carol Dorn
    June 18, 4:20 am

    Thank you much for your specialized training and Knowledge! We definitely need more veterinarians like you in this world! Not many folks think that we need veterinarians that specialize in caring for wild birds! We do need veterinarians that care for all of the many species in this world! I thank you! ❤️

  2. Claudia Herrera
    June 17, 5:10 pm

    Felicitaciones Dr.Paula Castaño, su trabajo es increíble. Gracias por la inspiración.

  3. Liliam Velasco
    May 24, 7:03 pm

    Felicitaciones Paula.
    Has volado muy alto, igual que esos halcones que ayudas y luego liberas

  4. Vilma
    May 19, 3:15 pm

    Eres un orgullo para nuestro país.
    Hermosa profesión.

    Vilma Elena.

  5. Gloria Jiménez
    May 5, 8:19 pm

    Felicitaciones, muy interesante tu trabajo Henry Gloria