August 27, 2020
A Tradition of Excellent Veterinary Care: Charles Robbins Schroeder
- 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 Robbins Schroeder, pictured here on the right, was the Bronx Zoo’s third full-time veterinarian serving in this position from 1937 until 1939.
Dr. Schroeder grew up in New York City, received his veterinary degree from Washington State University, and worked at Lederle Laboratories before becoming the first Veterinarian and Pathologist at the San Diego Zoo, leading their research and veterinary programs. In 1937, he became the chief veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo and emphasized research to advance the care of zoo animals. His ambitious list of priorities were to increase animal longevity, improve nutrition, apply public health methods of disease control and prevention in the zoo, implement effective quarantine procedures to advance animal health, conduct research and provide scientific specimens to collaborating researchers, and at professional meetings represent the Society and present original information. During his Bronx Zoo tenure, these interests and priorities culminated in the development of the eyelid tuberculin test for early diagnosis of tuberculosis in primates. At the time, this was a significant cause of illness and deaths in zoo primates, and the eyelid tuberculin test is a technique we still use today. He also pioneered development of a sophisticated laboratory at the Bronx Zoo Animal Hospital and developed an extensive clinical and pathology records system. Accurate and complete medical recordkeeping is still a priority and cornerstone of our practice.
After two years at the Bronx Zoo, he returned to the San Diego Zoo as their veterinarian, then to Lederle Laboratories to head their animal industry and veterinary clinical research sections, before returning to the San Diego Zoo as Director. He envisioned and oversaw the creation of the San Diego Wild Animal Park. When I was a veterinary intern at the San Diego Zoo, I had the pleasure of riding the park’s monorail with him and hearing stories of his life.
In this image from around 1937, Dr. Schroeder is working in the Bronx Zoo’s Animal Hospital Laboratory.
Since Dr. Schroeder’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 photography and other events throughout the year.