July 9, 2020
A Tradition of Excellent Veterinary Care: Charles Victor Noback
- 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. Charles Victor Noback, pictured here on the right, was the Bronx Zoo’s second full-time veterinarian, serving in this position from 1926 until his untimely death in 1937.
Dr. Noback grew up in the shadow of the Bronx Zoo. He, as did I, frequently visited the zoo as a child. These early experiences fueled his interest in pursuing a career as a zoo veterinarian in the same way my Bronx Zoo experiences did for me. As a teenager, Charles also worked digging trenches, and mixing and carting concrete, for the construction of the Elephant House (now Zoo Center) on Astor Court, something we do not have in common.
He received his veterinary degree and PhD from Cornell University, worked in the US Bureau of Animal Industry of the United States Department of Agriculture, both the New York City and New York State Departments of Public Health, and for two years in a Public Health Laboratory in Colombia near Bogota. His early holistic perspective of the relatedness of human and animal health throughout the world is now called One Health. The WCS Health Programs continue this emphasis, as exemplified by our roles in the diagnosis of West Nile virus in birds in New York in 1999, documentation of COVID-19 infection of Bronx Zoo tigers and lions in 2020, and is formalized through our One World One Health™ initiative.
Dr. Noback’s professional contributions included being a Fellow of the New York Zoological Society, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Promoting collaborative scientific studies throughout his Bronx Zoo career, he provided samples from Bronx Zoo animals to researchers, and he also welcomed them to the Bronx Zoo animal hospital. Ninety years later, we continue support for science through our WCS Biomaterials and IACUC Committees.
Dr. Noback excelled in both clinical medicine and pathology, utilized the services of the Bronx Zoo photographer to document lesions found in animals that had died, and attributed strict quarantine procedures to controlling infections in Bronx Zoo animals. He treated primates and birds with nutritional deficiencies, not only with standard nutritional supplements, but also with UV light to replicate sunlight exposure,which is needed for proper bone growth. Among his notable patients were young gorillas and chimpanzees, animals that were not commonly present in zoos at that time, and one of his veterinary publications is an article about bone growth in young gorillas. He also broke with conventional wisdom and promoted allowing the young gorillas to go outside even in cooler weather, for he believed that being outdoors was healthy for them, a procedure which we, of course, continue to this day.
In this image from 1937, Dr. Noback can be seen examining a baby chimpanzee, in a typical physician pose of “say ahhh…”. Since Dr. Noback’s time, we have continued a proud tradition of excellent veterinary care for our animals led by a succession of veterinarians who have been leaders in the field and set an example of high standards for zoo animal health care. 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 events throughout the year.