Emi Knafo '96

Zoological Veterinarian
Surgery on a goldfish (it needed bladder repair). Mending the wing of a great blue heron (humeral osteotomy). Dental exams and pregnancy checks on endangered zebras. Sterilizing Galapagos tortoises to help restore a delicate ecosystem on Pinta Island. Monitoring the health of Cape buffalo and wildebeests in South Africa. Any of these are all in a day’s work for Emi Knafo ’96.
“We’re kind of jack-of-all trades” Emi says of her specialty.  Unlike dog and cat or horse and cow specialists, “we are supposed to be able to do everything for the non-domestic species-- reproduction, surgery, medicine, anesthesia.” And she does. As a third-year resident in zoological medicine and surgery at Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Emi works on a huge range of animals.
Training for this elite specialty is long and rigorous. There are only six programs for this specialty in the country, and they are highly competitive.  For as long as she can remember, Emi has wanted to be a veterinarian. She had originally wanted to work with horses, so in her senior year of high school, she interned with both a horse vet and the Central Park Zoo. It was there that she realized she wanted to be a zoological veterinarian and she never looked back. “There was never really any question. So it was a little scary pursuing it because people will always tell you, this is really hard. You should have a plan B. And I said, ‘there can’t be a plan B.’”
The array of skills a zoo vet picks up is greater than you would guess. As a student in 2005, Emi traveled to South Africa with a group called Envirovet, where she worked with a team testing for tuberculosis in a collection of Cape buffalo and wildebeest around national parks.  The program required all participants to be gun proficient before entering the bush for their work, though they did not carry guns. The only gun Emi had ever picked up was the AK-47 she practiced with, which no one really believed when she used it win first place in a moving target competition.
During her residency, Emi was asked to be one of three veterinarians involved in a project to help restore Pinta Island tortoises in the Galapagos. Emi sterilized hydride tortoises to be released on the island in an effort to engineer the eco-system back to a place suitable for the indigenous tortoises. Since then, the last Pinta tortoise in existence, Lonely George, died.  A team from Yale is searching the genes of other Galapagos tortoises to find a genetic relative to repopulate the island.
Emi is currently finishing up her first residency treating patients including squirrels, kangaroos, baby bears among a long list of other species.  She is looking ahead to a possible second residency in dog and cat surgery with the aim of specializing further in surgery before taking her board exams for both Zoo Medicine and Surgery. Emi recalls learning about taxonomy in biology class with Sandra Geehreng at GCS “I thought she was a great teacher and I loved biology class.  I remember her teaching taxonomy and memorizing all those names for different classes of invertebrates. I thought that was really cool and thinking that I never knew that words like that even existed!”  She said she will appreciate it again when she has to remember all that taxonomy for the board exams. 
As for the future, Emi would like stay in academia after completing her residencies. “I love being in an academic institution, I like having specialists of all varieties around the hall who are easily accessible for consultation or a hand.”  Private practice and consulting are options, too. “There is room for all of it.”
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Grace Church School is a co-educational independent school in downtown Manhattan, New York City providing instruction for over 700 students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12.