Pinecrest TRibune
Pinecrest vet was 20th Century 'great white hunter'
December 3-16, 2001

Veterinarian Dr. Thomas Goldsmith came to Miami in 1983 to work in the glamorous  world of  thoroughbred horse racing, but instead chose a path (hat took him to the wilds of Africa in (the role as one of the last 'great white hunters' of the 20th Century.
"When I got here, I realized that I was looking ahead at a dying industry in this part of the world", said Goldsmith, a Coconut Grove resident and owner of Pinecrest Bird and Animal Hospital, 12521 S. Dixie Hwy. "I saw the writing on the wall and had the opportunity to get back into exotics: a week later I was in Nairobi. I spent the next five years collecting animals for zoos."
Goldsmith, who has worked with chimpanzee  expert Dr. Jane Goodall and calls her a friend, worked for just about all of South Florida's major animal importers, roaming the deepest parts of the dark continent and contracting with the natives to guide him into the bush and trap wild animals.
"I would be gone for six months at a time to six or seven countries," he said. "I traveled alone, never knew where I was going next, never knew what I was collecting next. It could have been baby elephants, it could have been giant poisonous centipedes. It could have been kingfishers; or even convincing the government of the Congo to change an amendment to the constitution to allow me to export the orphaned gorilla babies that were being held by a French woman; right down to bribes, with Swiss bank accounts and everything."
It was in the days of Telex messages - before the advent of cell phones, satellite phones and the Internet- and the pace was demanding. Goldsmith found himself "addicted to the adrenaline" and traveling from one country to the next at the drop of a hat.
"I'd get a message that said. 'Okay. you're going to Bangui.'" he recalled. "I'd do my homework, find out where Bangui was and be there in two days. Then I'd have to find trappers and cage builders, vehicles, drivers and translators, then go off handing out picture books to try and find out where the animals were. I'd have to teach them how to catch the animals and not kill them. Or, if I didn't get back to the location in time to collect the animals, they'd eat them."
Goldsmith agrees that the business of buying and selling animals has a dark side, but says he did his best to clean it up.
"It's a sleazy business if you do it the way it's always been done," he said.
"It was the animal trade, but really I was being good. It was a situation where I could bring medicine into a situation. I could walk away from it because it's distasteful or I could change a little corner of it. But, I wasn't going to change these people. The moment I turned my back they were going to go back to doing it the way they had always done it." After five years, he had his fill of it. And the laws were changing, with many countries hiking the duties imposed' on export animals, while zoos around the world were changing their attitude about acquiring animals in the wild.
"It was sort of the last gasp of the bring'em back alive' era," said Goldsmith. "I really felt like Frank Buck or Clyde Beatty at times. But, it took me to places in Africa that you couldn't get into if you had the desire to."
Goldsmith returned to Miami and for a time was heavily involved in the once-thriving international ostrich trade, in fact, he was in charge of seven quarantine stations set up for the birds and oversaw the operations of the Puerto Rican Ostrich Corporation.
"We were delivering stretch DC-10 cargo aircraft loaded with ostriches to Brazil, China, Paraguay and England," he said.
And then the bottom fell out of the market, primarily because Americans never developed a taste for ostrich meat.
'The price for a breeding pair went from $60,000 to $1,500 in six months," said Goldsmith.
He decided to return to the saner life of practicing veterinary medicine.
Goldsmith was born in New York, but grew up in Vermont, Kansas and New Jersey. He attended college in England, then Swarthmore in Philadelphia, graduating in 1975. He went to graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta and veterinarian school at the University of Georgia and California, specializing in primates and big cats. He says he wanted to be an animal doctor since he was a boy.
'"When I was five, I figured I would be a sheep specialist and go to Australia," he said with a wry smile. "Then I found that they would pay me to go to all the jungles in the world, travel and have someone pick up the tab if I was the expert on jungle animals." Goldsmith's father and grandfather were a pediatricians and he muses that becoming a veterinarian was not such a difficult switch from being a children's doctor. "It's really not that great of a step," he said. "Somewhat thwarted, twisted in some way, but philosophically or spiritually it's about the same. But, it was always my call. They're very much the same sensibilities. I'm not sure which is more hysterical, the owners or the mothers."
Goldsmith's office and veterinary hospital facilities are immaculate in their cleanliness. He says that is of paramount importance.
"An impression of cleanliness as far as the threat to one's animal is concerned is important," said Goldstein. "And also it is an imperative when you're dealing with birds or you're crossing from one major animal type to another; they are highly susceptible to organisms carried by other groups. You cannot have a bird sitting around where there are dogs and cats and fecal material and hair and things like that. By the same token, you cannot take a bird in where a sick bird has been unless it has been disinfected to the max. This has to be an impeccably run practice."
Goldsmith, who serves as the primary veterinarian for Miami's Monkey Jungle and the backup doctor for MelroZoo, provides care for all animals, including birds, snakes, lizards and primates.
"The dog and cat aspects of the business  are the presumed baseline." he said. "You have to know that before you can make that leap and start treating exotic cats or foxes or wolves. You have to know the normal, the basic, the ordinary before you can start looking at the exotic.
"It's a cakewalk to treat a dog because I can walk up to it and give it a pill. I can draw blood without having to dart it: I don't have to worry about this pussycat tearing me to shreds. So, it's pure medicine as opposed to exotic animal medicine, which is so much psychology; understand­ing the natural behavior and tendency of the species."

Pinecrest TRibune

Dr. Goldsmith is not your usual dog, cat veterinarian

On any given day in his new office in Pinecrest, Dr. Thomas Goldsmith, an avian and exotic veterinarian, may be found treating a kinkajou for pneumonia, conducting plastic surgery on a hedgehog, vaccinating a skunk, or amputating the claws of a snow leopard.
He also has been known to sit on the floor to perform surgery on a nine-foot ostrich that is too long for the operating table.
"What I love is the incredible variety that comes through the doors," Dr. Goldsmith said.
For the past 30 years, he has traveled throughout South America and Africa working with and importing exotic animals for zoos. He brought back such animals as emus (a smaller cousin of the ostrich), hedgehogs (spine-covered insectivores), wallabies (small kangaroos), sugar gliders (flying squirrels) and various species of birds.
Additionally, he has worked in quarantine stations in the United States which hold animals for various periods of time to check for parasites and diseases before releasing them to their owners, be it a zoo or professional breeder. Through traveling and working closely with the animals in quarantine he came to know their various diseases, habits and diets.
Currently he works as Monkey Jungle's veterinarian and as a backup veterinarian for area zoos. In his private practice, he treats privately owned animals as well as animals of breeders. He has owned big cats and currently has three monkeys, which live in his house and backyard.
"It's a whole immersion. You have to live this stuff," he said.
It's a statement that holds true for would-be owners of exotic animals as well.
"You can't just one day decide you want to go buy a tiger for a backyard pet. This is a 650-pound animal with claws and teeth that eats 2 percent of its body weight each day," he said.
While people do purchase such animals and keep them in their backyards, unique considerations hold true for all animals that fall under the heading of "exotic" and are not to be taken lightly. What may be healthy for humans may be toxic for many exotics such as monkeys or iguanas. Diets range from store-bought pellets to fresh meat, specific tree twigs, and fresh vegetables.
Habits vary as well. While a small tree-covered backyard may be suitable for some, other species require 12-foot walls, or covered aviaries. Wallabies can wander and become lost in too large of a space, as can the hedgehog.
Additionally, unique and unusual diseases need to be considered. Birds indigenous to arid climates moved to humid climates may develop respiratory diseases or some animals, such as the hedgehog, placed in climates under 65 degrees will go into fatal hibernation.
"You would be amazed at what is in the backyards of Miami," Goldsmith said.
A number of exotics have ended up in the Everglades as people would rather do without the hassle and it's rare when one is rescued.
In most cases, exotic animals and humans manage well together, although it is important to speak with veterinarians such as Dr. Goldsmith before taking in an exotic animal or bird. Except for domestic dogs and cats, he will be able to coach you on the idiosyncrasies of a wide variety of animals.
Dr. Goldsmith opened his practice in Florida in 1983 and received his bachelor's degree in animal behavior from Swarthmore College and his master's in primatology from the Yerkes Center for Primates in Atlanta. He received his veterinary license through the University of Georgia and the University of California at Davis.

An Affinity With Animals


Sometimes it looks like Noah's ark in    the waiting room," says Thomas Goldsmith '75, a private-practice exotic animal veterinarian. Devoting more than 60 hours a week to the care of animals, including all the big cats, primates, and birds, Goldsmith says it's not unusual to see a 16-foot trailer pull up outside his Bird and Animal Hospital of Pine-crest, in south Miami, and unload a 650-pound male Bengal tiger with a tooth problem that he must diagnose from a distance. To anes­thetize the animal and get a closer look could break its trust; so when sedation is necessary, it is usually delivered through a blow dart.
"Projectile medicating can be tricky," says Goldsmith, who is frequently called on by clients to use his blow-pipe skill. "You have to determine whether it's justified. You have to consider all the options in terms of the ani­mal's psychology and physiology."
Goldsmith, who is also the chief veterinar­ian for Monkey Jungle, a Miami tourist attrac­tion and primate center with more than 400 primates and the back-up veterinarian for Miami's Metro Zoo, stresses the importance of taking a holistic approach when caring for an exotic animal, whether it lives in a zoo or pri­vate residence. In addition to his veterinary degree from the University of Georgia, Gold­smith earned two degrees in animal behavior, and has done graduate study at the Yerkes Regional Primate Center in Atlanta. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of each animals needs.
"If an animal doesn't have emotional and nutritional health, it can't ever have physical health," he says. "Far too often I encounter clients lacking the knowledge to properly care for their animal. In order for them to properly understand and appreciate the animal in their care, a large part of my time is spent educating my clients regarding the biology, psychology and ecological origins of their chosen pet."

Goldsmith, who shares his Coconut Grove, Fla., home with two cottontop tamarin monkeys and two Irish wolfhounds, has trav­eled most of Africa and South and Central America, working on behalf of zoos, governments, educational facilities, importers, breed­ers, and private business owners. But doing so can often be dangerous.
In 1985, during an eight-week assignment in Cameroon, he was imprisoned twice: once for not having his passport while standing in front of his hotel, and on another day while in the bush, he was presumed to be a gun runner from Nigeria and held in a hut for three days.
On a third occasion during this trip, he was informed the army was looking for him. With the help of a British Petroleum (BP) engineer who was working in Cameroon, Goldsmith was whisked out of the country and put on a BP oil rig, from where he was shuttled by helicopter to safety in Gabon.
Goldsmith believes this incident was insti­gated by a vindictive man whose animal exporting business he reported as being un­scrupulous.
"It's a risk you must be willing to take," says Goldsmith nonchalantly. "You can be nauseated and walk away from these commer­cial setups or swallow your pride and try to make a difference. I can't change the world, but I can change a tiny corner. Somebody's got to try to put these people out of business." Because of this incident and concerns for his safety, Goldsmith says, "it would not be wise for me to return to Cameroon."

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