About me

I grew up in London and after volunteering for several years as an invertebrate keeper at London Zoo I gained a place at the Royal Veterinary College, graduating with a BVetMed degree in 1999. I worked in general practice for 6 and a half years seeing both companion animals and exotic referral cases. I also had the wonderful opportunity of working with zoological collections such as Marwell Zoo and the Hawk Conservancy seeing a wide variety of species which encouraged my interest in zoological work. After gaining my RCVS certificate in Zoological Medicine in 2005 I decided to move out of practice and see what opportunities I could find in zoological collections and was lucky enough to be employed by WWT. I currently live in a small village with my husband who works for another WWT (Worcestershire Wildlife Trust), our young daughter, 2 rabbits, 22 stick insects and a number of giant millipedes.

My work

I joined WWT in 2006 and have never been happier. The scope of my role within the organisation has increased a lot and there are always new projects and developments to become involved in.As part of the Living Collections team I provide veterinary care and advice to all seven of the WWT centres with living collections (with primary responsibility for individual centres split between myself and Taiana Costa our veterinary pathologist). I’ve also been fortunate to have been involved in numerous wild bird catches and wildlife health screening. The chance to be part of projects such as the Great Crane Project and work with endangered species such as the Spoon-billed sandpipers and Black-tailed godwit has been a fantastic bonus and I always feel incredibly lucky to have such opportunities.


  • In addition to my BVetMed degree and CertZooMed I recently achieved a European College of Zoological Medicine Diploma in Zoo Health Management
  • I have been accepted for training as a Secretary of State’s Zoo inspector and currently Taina Costa and I carry out regular vet inspections at all the WWT centres that house Living Collections to ensure that we are fully compliant with Zoo Licensing legislation.
  • We also deal with day to day health care of the collection animals at WWT Slimbridge and liaise with staff and local vets at other centres on health matters.
  • We also produce Health Management guidelines for any new species to be added to the collections
  • I am also a member of the WWT Animal Welfare and Ethics committee


Selected peer-reviewed papers

O’Brien, M.F., Costa T., Beckmann, K.M., Cromie, R.L. & Brown, M.J. (2018) Disease outbreak investigation in waterfowl collections in the UK. Companion Animal (in press)

O’Brien M.F., Meldrum J., Foster I. (2018) Medical and surgical management of intraspecific wounds in a European beaver kit (Castor fiber). Veterinary Record Case Reports (in press)

O’Brien, M.F., Justice, W.S.M., Beckmann, K.M., Denk, D., Pocknell, A.M. & Stidworthy, M.F. (2017) Four cases of neoplasia in amphibians at two zoological institutions: Alpine newt Ichthyosaura alpestris, Red-eyed tree frog Agalychnis callidryas, Common frog Rana temporaria and Puerto Rican crested toad Peltophryne lemur. International Zoo Yearbook 51: 1–9

O’Brien M.F., Beckmann K.M., Jarrett N.S., Hilton G.M., Carmichael N.G. and Cromie R.L. (2017) Blood biochemistry and haematology values of juvenile Eurasian cranes (Grus grus) raised in captivity for reintroduction. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research 5(1) 38-47

O’Brien M.F., Lee R., Cromie R., Brown M.J. (2016) Assessment of the rates of injury and mortality in waterfowl captured with five methods of capture and techniques for minimizing risks. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 52, 2s, S86

O'Brien, M.F., Brown, M.J., Stidworthy, M.F., Peirce, M.A., Marshall, R.N., Honma, H. and Nakai, Y (2011) Disseminated visceral coccidiosis in Eurasian cranes (Grus grus) in the U.K.Veterinary Record 168: 216

Justice W.S.M., O’Brien M.F., Szyszka O., Shotton J., Gilmour J., Riordan P. and Wolfensohn S. Adaptation of the animal welfare assessment grid (AWAG) for monitoring animal welfare in zoological collections. Veterinary Record 181(6):143

Dillon M.J., Bowkett A.E., Bungard M.J., Beckman K.M., O'Brien M.F., Bates K., Fisher M.C., Stevens J.R., Thornton C.R. (2017) Tracking the amphibian pathogens Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans using a highly specific monoclonal antibody and lateral-flow technology. Microbial Biotechnology 10: 381-394

Tolpinrud A., O’Brien M.F., Justice W.S.M., Barrows M., Steele O., Gent S. and Meredith A.L. (2017) Infrared thermography as a diagnostic tool for pododermatitis in captive greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus). Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research 5(1) 48-55

Other publications

Cunningham AA, Beckmann K, Perkins M, Fitzpatrick L, Cromie R, Redbond J, O'Brien MF, Ghosh P, Shelton J, Fisher MC (2015) Emerging disease in U.K. amphibians. Veterinary Record 176: 468

O’Brien M F (2008) Invertebrate anaesthesia. In: Longley L (ed.) Anaesthesia of Exotic Pets, W B Saunders, Pennsylvania: 279-295.

Selected conference proceedings

Michelle O’Brien, W. Justice, S. Wolfensohn. Use of an Animal Welfare Assessment Grid programme to monitor welfare in non-domestic animals. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Avian, Herpetological and Exotic Mammal Medicine, Venice, Italy. 27th-29th March 2017.

Michelle O’Brien. Veterinary challenges in high profile avian conservation projects. Southern Veterinary Student Zoological Symposium, Cambridge University 26th -28th February 2016.

Michelle O’Brien, K. Beckmann, R. Cromie, J. Crooks, H. Lamont, J. Redbond. Health, welfare and biosecurity of a large amphibian collection at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. Proceedings of the British Veterinary Zoological Society Autumn Meeting, Bristol Zoo, U.K. 6-8th November 2015.

Michelle O’Brien, K. Beckmann, R. Cromie, M. Brown, N. Hiscock, T. Grigg, R. Digby, A. Geary, R. Lee, B. Hughes, N. Jarrett. Challenges in health management of the Spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) - A critically endangered small wader. Proceedings of the British Veterinary Zoological Society Autumn Meeting, Bristol Zoo, U.K. 6-8th November 2015.

Michelle F. O’Brien, K. Beckmann, R. Cromie, M. Brown, R. Lee and N. Jarrett. An update on the management of animal health issues encountered in the Great Crane Project. Proceedings of the British Veterinary Zoological Society Autumn Meeting, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo / Holiday Inn, Luton, U.K. 9th & 10th November 2013.