February 13, 2020
A Tradition of Excellent Veterinary Care: William Reid Blair
- as seen by -Paul P. Calle
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s (then the New York Zoological Society) Bronx Zoo opened to the public on November 8, 1899. Dr. William Reid Blair, pictured here on the left, was the Bronx Zoo’s first full time veterinarian. He served in this position from 1903 until 1922 when he assumed the dual position of veterinarian and Bronx Zoo Assistant Director, and in 1926 he succeeded Dr. Hornaday to become the Bronx Zoo’s second director, a position he held until 1940.
Beginning in 1900, shortly after the Bronx Zoo opened, the zoo employed part time veterinarians until Dr. Blair was hired. At that time, being a zoo veterinarian was a rarity, and the Bronx Zoo was innovative in making the investment to hire a full time veterinarian to provide this animal care expertise. Since those early years, we have been leaders in the health care we provide to all of our animals.
In this image from 1910, Dr. Blair can be seen casting an orangutan’s broken leg while it lays anesthetized on a table in its enclosure. While we do not know how that orang fared, we do know that since Dr. Blair’s time we have continued a proud tradition of excellent veterinary care for our animals led by a succession of veterinarians who followed in Dr. Blair’s footsteps. I am the ninth Bronx Zoo Chief Veterinarian and in the coming months, I look forward to sharing with you information and images of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s long history of innovative animal health care provided by our dedicated animal health department, led by the Chief Veterinarian.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Wildlife Conservation Society is celebrating 125 years of saving wildlife and wild places in 2020. WCS was founded as the New York Zoological Society in 1895, and the flagship Bronx Zoo opened in 1899. Wild View will feature regular posts on the history of the Society’s photography and other events throughout the year.