Alumni Spotlight: Andrew Di Salvo, DVM ’15, Pennsylvania Game Commission
Dr. Andrew Di Salvo had always been interested in wildlife and enjoyed being outdoors. He first considered a career in wildlife veterinary medicine while working as a park ranger in New York City before veterinary school. He is the first to admit that, after obtaining his DVM from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2015, it was quite the journey to his current role serving as the wildlife veterinarian for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
During his time at Cornell, this interest expanded to addressing population-wide issues and making positive contributions to large-scale conservation efforts. As a vet student, Dr. Di Salvo often heard about the supposed lack of jobs in wildlife medicine, something with which he disagrees. “I think that is just a result of a lack of creativity and an unwillingness to consider any opportunity. Instead, I think it is in your best interest to cast a wide net and chase after options even if they might not seem like a perfect fit. I think one of the biggest challenges for me was stepping outside of my comfort zone and walking through nearly every door that was opened for me despite not always knowing where it would lead.”
As he sought his niche in veterinary medicine, he was fortunate to find mentors in Cornell faculty and opportunities to explore his interests through coursework and applied experiences. He names the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab’s Dr. Elizabeth Bunting, a wildlife veterinarian, and Dr. Krysten Schuler, a disease ecologist, as particularly strong influences. “Their mentorship while I was a student provided me with an informal education in wildlife management that both complemented my formal veterinary curriculum and supplied me with a realistic understanding of what a career in the free-ranging wildlife field would entail.” Volunteering at the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital and learning from wildlife and exotics faculty, including Drs. George Kollias, Noha Abou-Madi, James Morrisey, and Ricardo de Matos, were also particularly impactful.
As his graduation from Cornell neared, Dr. Di Salvo was interested in working with a state or federal wildlife agency but knew he had to gain more field experience first. He then took the opportunity to travel to Namibia to work with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, an experience he says was both challenging and extraordinarily rewarding. “I learned a lot about being resourceful, gained a ton of confidence, and had a few once-in-a-lifetime moments.” It also helped him to conclude that he wanted his next adventures to be closer to home, so he redirected his focus to free-ranging wildlife in North America.
Dr. Di Salvo next worked with White Buffalo Inc, a non-profit organization, as part of a deer sterilization project based in New York City, and spent a summer teaching in Belize before he moved to California to begin a two-year residency in free-ranging wildlife health in a collaborative program between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the University of California, Davis. During this time, after completing his Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine degree, Dr. Di Salvo was offered a position with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“[My career] has provided me with amazing opportunities to work with a diversity of animals across incredible landscapes.... I have met and learned from so many interesting, dedicated, and inspiring individuals along the way.”
As the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Di Salvo’s main responsibilities are to administer the agency’s Wildlife Health Program, which conducts active and passive wildlife disease surveillance of wild birds and mammals across the state, and to manage a comprehensive wildlife health database. In his time there, he has led regulatory changes allowing the agency to more effectively prevent, monitor, and manage wildlife disease issues. Another highlight of Dr. Di Salvo’s position is his ability to work with other state and federal agencies on One Health initiatives, allowing him to maximize his impact. Whether interacting with the public or with students, Dr. Di Salvo always strives to emphasize the critical role wildlife plays in our ecosystems.
“I hope that my contributions have positively impacted wildlife, whether that be through training colleagues to ensure they are handling wildlife humanely, through research findings that improve management strategies, or through policy development that promotes conservation at grander scales. Much like I have benefited from the many mentors along my career path, I also hope that younger colleagues have learned something and gained a greater appreciation for the natural world as a result of our interactions. I am optimistic that I am contributing to the recruitment of the next generation of wildlife health advocates.”
Dr. Di Salvo stresses that work as a wildlife vet is not for everyone. “It may be dangerous, require living in obscure locations, require long and odd work hours, and you are often rewarded with low pay.” That being said, the journey has been more than worthwhile for him.
“While my career has followed a circuitous path and required me to uproot and live in distant places far from loved ones, it has provided me with amazing opportunities to work with a diversity of animals across incredible landscapes. From handling wild cheetah cubs in the hills of Namibia to surveying bighorn sheep from a helicopter over the Mojave Desert, it really has been a wild ride. I have met and learned from so many interesting, dedicated, and inspiring individuals along the way.”
When asked for some parting advice for aspiring wildlife veterinarians, he’s armed with a bevy of tips: “Be flexible, do not overlook any opportunity, do not spend too much time chasing a perfect fit, be patient, be bold, do not be shy, network, do not give up, enjoy the ride, and most importantly, try to relax.”
Written by Colleen Sorge ’20, DVM ’24