April 24, 2020

One World, One Health

How Denver Zoo Takes a Global Approach to the Health of Animals Here and in the Wild

Kerry Owens, Certified Veterinary Technician 


A passion for animal health and saving endangered species led me to Denver Zoo more than a decade ago. And I didn’t want to limit my work to just the animals that call Denver Zoo home. But how can one Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) have an impact on a species that lives on the other side of the world? By approaching animal health with a concept known as One Health—an understanding that the three pillars of animal health, ecosystems, and human health are inseparable. You cannot save endangered species without saving their ecosystems. You cannot save ecosystems without people. You cannot have healthy people without healthy ecosystems. You cannot have the health of one without the other. 

Why One Health 

The term One Health was coined back in 2004, and is now supported by institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association. And One Health is used right here at Denver Zoo. When we treat an animal, we’re not just looking at the individual, we’re considering those three factors – animal health, human health and ecosystem health.  

Putting it All Together 

My day-to-day routine at the zooincludes everything from vaccinating zebras to using medical laser treatments on hyenas, but I’m able to put some of that One Health training to use when I step away from Denver Zoo and in threatened ecosystems. I’ve assisted the Denver Zoo field conservation team by restoring watersheds at the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and supported our work at the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in Mongolia, where I conduct health assessments on vultures. These raptors are a great example of why One Health matters. Vultures keep ecosystems clean and free of diseases by eating carcasses. Their ultra-acidic stomach acids kill the pathogens found in the carcasses, thus cleaning ecosystems up for animals and humans. Healthy vultures keep all kinds of other creatures from getting sick. 

But my work in Mongolia and New Mexico has been about more than animal health. One Health means I’m monitoring water tables, working with livestock owners and sheep herders to implement responsible practices and restoring vegetation where needed. All of these things contribute to a healthy ecosystem, one that gives animals and people a home, healthy air, clean water and edible food. 

Everyone Has a Role 

One Health can seem like an overwhelming idea, but it’s also quite simplewe’re all connected. We use this philosophy at Denver Zoo to help the animals in our care, and to help threatened and endangered species, but you don’t have to be a CVT, zookeeper or conservationist to practice One Health. Take a moment to think of the ways the three pillars of One Health are connected in your life. Do you have plants in your backyard? What species do they support? Do you buy products that are sustainably sourced and helping maintain habitats for animals in the rainforests? The more you think about One Health, the more opportunities you’ll find to practice it in your daily life, and the more you’ll see just how connected we really are.  


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