Harrison, Tara

Education

  • B.S., Michigan State University, 1998
  • DVM, Michigan State University, 2000

About

The animals at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan lost their long-time veterinarian, Dr. Tara Meyers Harrison in 2014. An offer from University of California at Davis to join the faculty of Department of Medicine and Epidemiology as an Assistant Professor of Zoological Medicine and work with the Sacramento Zoo and other facilities was too enticing.

Dr. Tara, as she is known in the zoo world, started her career in the Department of Zoology as an undergraduate major focused on the preveterinary program. She made her decision to go for the DVM and received her degree in 2000 following her Bachelor’s degree in 1998. Tara also received a Master’s of Preventive Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Epidemiology from UCDavis in 2002.  Her first love was exotic animals, and in 2003 was hired by Potter Park Zoo as Chief Veterinarian and animal curator.  Hard work is nothing new to Dr. Tara, she studied for the next hurdle, and passed it with a Diplomate in Zoological Medicine granted from the American College of Zoological Medicine. She is the first woman and second veterinarian in Michigan to hold this prestigious certification. 

Not one to assume a routine job, she began an ambitious research program utilizing those animals under her daily care. Soon it was apparent to everyone that Dr. Tara was dedicated beyond most animal lovers. She soon engaged in zoo outreach programs, and participated in college education programs at the zoo and MSU. The College of Veterinary Medicine made her Assistant Professor On Call in 2013; this after much time dedicated to informal instruction of undergraduates in zoology, animal science, and fisheries and wildlife, not to mention animal behavior welfare students. She found time to lecture in classrooms and civic clubs, and was nominated as a finalist for 2010 “Woman of the Year”. Over time Dr. Tara came to believe the zoo needed a new up-to-date clinic, and in typical fashion, she went after it. First she pushed for, and got, cooperation from MSU to establish a “Residency in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, Management and Pathology.” Then she and the Director of Potter Park Zoo convinced the Dean of Veterinary Medicine that MSU should get behind a new zoo clinic that would be state-of-the-art for animal welfare and educational instruction. She wanted new protocols, care methods, research and certification resources to be part of this structure. Learning from projects with falcons, bears and the big cats, she has published 16 papers to date dealing with zoological medicine. Dr. Tara found time to lead groups to Africa on animal camera safaris; became an advocate for local schools and young people’s programs; and fielded questions by the local media. You can see that Dr. Tara has taken her passion for animal life a step beyond a wish to work in a zoo. She even lectured about big cat diseases in ZOL 369, Introduction to Zoo & Aquarium Science where she was a hit. 

She’s now helping with supervision of residency programs at UCDavis/Sacramento Zoo/San Diego Zoo & Wild Animal Park/ and Sea World. She is continuing her research on the safety and vaccine schedule of feline vaccines in tigers, lions, and snow leopards.  And finally, continues to build her research on cancer/cancer treatments in zoo animals.  Yes, it was a great combination of zoos, universities, and people that brought Dr. Tara to where she is today, but above it was that personal determination and hard work that made it happen.