Freeland Dunker, DVM & Gail Hedberg-SF Zoo Gail E. Hedberg, RVT entered the field of zoo medicine in 1976 by completing a student externship working with exotic animals at Marine World Africa USA in Redwood City, CA.

She is a graduate from Colorado Mountain College’s Veterinary  Technology program. Her education, training, subsequent certification and work experience provided the opportunity for full time mployment at this theme park until 1980. Here is where she had the chance to work with a variety of infant exotic animals in the nursery. She applied her skills and training as a registered veterinary technician working with marine mammals as well as assorted exotic birds and large mammals in the veterinary clinic.

In 1981 Gail joined the zoo hospital team at the San Francisco Zoo. In reality hand-rearing is only 10% of her work load but it is truly her passion. This specialty as a zoo animal neonatal  cares specialist developed because she has hand-reared animals of all kinds during a 36-year career. This has evolved from a rhino calf, gorilla infants, giraffe calves for Michael Jackson, a  polar bear cub, to white lion and tiger cubs for Siegfried and Roy. She is often called upon to provide her expertise in an area that not only requires intuitiveness and sensitivity, but a medical  knowledge base that enables her to cross over every species boundary. Because of her special skill set in neonatal care, zoo and exotic animal professionals around the world seek Gail’s expertise, knowledge and methodologies.



An important aspect of Gail’s life is her husband Kent. They met while both working at Marine World Africa USA. This is where they quickly shared countless experiences working with marine mammals and exotic animals. Kent’s support has been paramount to Gail’s success. Even though Gail retired from her full time job this summer (2013) at the San Francisco Zoo; she is organizing a hand-rearing workshop for March 2014 and continues to be a consultant. (click) KALW Radio Interview





Current Highlights                                    



Workshop Program Coordinator-AZVT Focus Group:  The Art and Science of Hand-Rearing


March 10-13, 2014                                              



The inaugural AZVT Focus Group: The Art and Science of Hand-Rearing is hosted by Safari West Nature Preserve


The workshop concentrates solely on hand-rearing of zoo carnivore and hoof stock species. The organizing committee is working with experts in the field to present exciting new and proven hand-rearing information to zoo veterinary and zoo animal care staff involved in this specialty.







2011 marks a milestone for Gail as she has been acknowledged for her 30 year service with the San Francisco Zoo Veterinary Department.




Her most challenging project was successfully hand-rearing an infant polar bear cub.

This occurred at a time with limited information and few successful outcomes. This led to the opportunity to share lessons learned along the way.

Gail is a contributing author for chapters on polar bear and zoo felids in Hand-Rearing Wild and Domestic Mammals   



 For the last 10 years she has been the lead researcher in a nutritional study focused on analyzing polar bear milk and blood samples. 

Gail has gained the respect and secured financial support for this on going study from Polar Bears International.


Collaborating with experts and the unique results of her ground breaking work have been published and presented at international seminars for both exotic animals and human pediatrics.

2011 article  Milk composition in free-ranging polar bears (Ursus maritimus) as a model for captive rearing milk formula has provided key information for milk composition and formula reccomendations for polar bear cubs born in captivity.   



Editors of Zoo Biology selected one of the Hedberg's photos of San Francisco Zoos own "PIKE" when she was six months old as the cover photo for this prestigious journal.