Oliver Graham-Jones was the Senior Veterinary Officer at London Zoo, and author of many scientific papers and two autobiographical novels.
Oliver Graham-Jones was born in Birmingham, England, in 1919. He graduated from the Royal Veterinary College, London, in 1940. He states that this career path stemmed from an insatiable curiosity about the animal world, and a desire to remedy its disabilities, rather than any love of animals or sentimentality.
Graham-Jones drifted between veterinary practice and active service during the war years, but was discharged as medically unfit in 1944. In 1951 he was offered the posts of Veterinary Officer and Curator of Mammals at the London Zoo. This was the first time that London Zoo had employed a full-time vet. He was appointed Senior Veterinary Officer in 1960, and relinquished the post of Curator to take up that position. He designed the zoo’s animal hospital in collaboration with the zoo’s architect, and invented the dart gun for administering anaesthetics to large animals.
Oliver Graham-Jones left the zoo in 1966 to become a lecturer in the Medicine Department at the Royal Veterinary College, and then abandoned that pursuit to start a veterinary practice. The practice was closed in 1991 due to Oliver’s failing health. He died in early 2002.
The stories of Graham-Jones’ time at the London Zoo were published in his books “Zoo Doctor” (originally “First Catch Your Tiger”) and “Zoo Tails”. Both are extremely entertaining, though occasionally somewhat dark, and not all stories will leave you smiling. The story about the necessary shooting of Cholmondely the Chimpanzee has an added impact – this was the same Cholmondely immortalized by zoologist Gerald Durrell in his books. Oliver Graham-Jones also published scientific papers – he produced over 40 during his time at the zoo. He has been the recipient of various awards, including, in 1980, the Sir Keith Arthur Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. It is believed that he is the only veterinary surgeon to have been honoured in this way.
Oliver Graham-Jones once went on record as saying that ideally not a penny should go to charities devoted to the care or preservation of wild animals while a single child in Britain existed in desperate need. He felt that our loyalties were primarily due to our own species. He was harshly criticised for this statement – it was felt that these opinions could not be reconciled with his career. Whether or not one agrees with Oliver is a matter of personal morality and choice. I still can’t decide. No matter what his motivation, Oliver Graham-Jones made a huge contribution to veterinary practice for captive wild animals.
Acknowledgements: “Zoo Doctor” by Oliver Graham-Jones, 1970, Collins Publishers, and http://www.bvzs.org/ObituaryOGLIANKEYMER.htm