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Red Chair Chats

At the Zoo: A Trip to Asheboro with Chancellor Woodson and Veterinarian Dr. Jb Minter

Chancellor Woodson hits the road to talk with Dr. Jb Minter about what it’s like to oversee the care of 250 different species of animals at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

Chancellor Woodson and Dr. Jb Minter sit at the Africa entrance of the North Carolina Zoo. The image also contains the Red Chair Chats graphic, which says "Red Chair Chats with Chancellor Woodson. Special guest: Dr. Jb Minter." Play Video

No two days are the same in Dr. Jb Minter’s world. The NC State College of Veterinary Medicine alum oversees the care of 250 different species among the 1,700 animals at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro — the largest natural habitat zoo in the world. Chancellor Woodson takes the red chairs and his family on the road to visit the North Carolina Zoo for this episode of Red Chair Chats.

You can hear an audio version of this conversation on the Red Chair Chats podcast, available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.


Chancellor Woodson: Hello, Wolfpack Nation. It’s Chancellor Randy Woodson with you again for another edition of Red Chair Chats. Today, we’ve taken the red chairs on the road to the North Carolina Zoo, and boy, do we have a treat for you today. You all know Red Chair Chats is where we get together with alumni and friends and others from the university that love NC State, and share stories about their affection for this great university. So today, as I said, you’re in for a big treat. We’ve got the head dude for taking care of all of these animals, over, oh gosh, 1,700 animals and 200 and I don’t know how many species, but this is a big place. And today we’ve got Dr. Jb Minter with us today, a 2008 graduate from our College of Veterinary Medicine. And so Jb, it’s great to be with you today.

Dr. Jb Minter: Thank you, Randy, it’s great to be here.

Chancellor Woodson: Well, we’re really thrilled, and thank you for letting me bring my grandkids, because they’re somewhere having a big time.

Dr. Jb Minter: I was gonna say, it’s a beautiful day.

Chancellor Woodson: Well, let’s talk about what it’s like to take care of, as I understand it, the North Carolina Zoo is the largest natural habitat zoo in the world.

Dr. Jb Minter: So we are about 2,600 acres of beautiful North Carolina, Piedmont. Rolling right up next to us is the Uwharrie National Forest. So we’re a beautiful, large park. It’s all walking, you’re not gonna get, obviously there’s trams to move you around the park a little bit, but we’re a large park. Only about 500 [acres] of that, a little bit over 500 of that is actually developed out for the guest experience. That 500 acres includes lots of pathways, it includes animal habitats. And we’re now really starting to expand into our nature trails. So that you’re not even in the park itself, it’s just hiking in the woods.

Chancellor Woodson: Wow.

Dr. Jb Minter: So it is a beautiful park. It’s one of the reasons that brought me, keeps bringing me back to North Carolina, honestly. So yeah, it’s a beautiful place.

Chancellor Woodson: Well, let’s talk about that experience. You said back to North Carolina, you’re a Virginia Tech grad.

Dr. Jb Minter: I am.

Chancellor Woodson: A fine land-grant university. Animal science major, as I recall.

Dr. Jb Minter: That is correct.

Chancellor Woodson: Went off to study in Utah for a wildlife biology degree.

Dr. Jb Minter: I did.

Chancellor Woodson: And then came to NC State for your veterinary medicine degree.

Dr. Jb Minter: I did.

Chancellor Woodson: And did you always wanna be a zoo vet, or did you start out thinking you were gonna work on Fluffy and Muffy?

Dr. Jb Minter: So honestly, when I went to Virginia Tech, I thought I was gonna do Fluffy and Muffy. I thought small animal medicine. That was my experience, that was my understanding. And then I went to Virginia Tech, I went into animal science. I grew up on the beach of Virginia. So I grew up very close to the beach. We didn’t have cows, we didn’t have horses, we didn’t have that type of thing, at least where I was growing up. And I went, I was like, oh, I really like large animal. And as you should do in college, I kind of branched out, did a lot of different things, took a few different classes in majors outside my own. And I started taking some classes in wildlife biology. And I was like, well, this is pretty fun, I really like this as well. So I decided I’m gonna apply to vet school, and I got into Virginia Tech. And being young, young and cocky, and a little bit stupid. I opted not to go. I said, “You know what? I’m gonna move out to Utah. I’m gonna be a liftie. I’m gonna go skiing.”

Chancellor Woodson: Oh, a liftie.

Dr. Jb Minter: Oh, yeah. I loved to ski at the same time. So I’m gonna run the lifts, somewhere out in Utah. I’m gonna take a gap year, as they’re calling it now. So I went out there, and I met an individual that was a professor at Utah State, and he said, “You should come do a graduate degree with me.” He’s like, “I’ve got some work, I’ve got a project. I’m gonna fund you, and come out and do this.” And I was like, “Sure, this sounds great.” Keeps me in Utah for three, couple more years.

Chancellor Woodson: Yeah, so you could continue being a liftie.

Dr. Jb Minter: Well, actually I had to give up that job a little bit because most of my field season was in the winter. But, so I stayed there and I did my master’s in wildlife biology with an emphasis in, I was doing reproductive physiology. I was basically trying to figure out how to contracept coyotes.

Chancellor Woodson: Wow. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s not every day we think about birth control with coyotes, but-

Dr. Jb Minter: Well, and that stems from the fact that obviously coyotes are, if you ask a lot of people, they’re very divisive animals. So some people really, really dislike coyotes. And there was some information that came out that if they weren’t provisioning for pups, they’d be less likely to kill your goats and your sheep. So if you could prevent them from having babies, they could live on your farm and obviously not be a predator for the animals that you were, in theory, raising.

Chancellor Woodson: Not a typical master’s thesis project.

Dr. Jb Minter: No, not really. But again, it was good work, I got to stick around. After that, I was considering, OK, maybe I’ll do a Ph.D. in wildlife biology and do something else. And my advisor, who had a Ph.D. and a DVM said, “Nope, you should go get your DVM, you’ll be more marketable.” And he said, “Go to NC State.”

Chancellor Woodson: There we go. All the way out in Utah he was singing our praises.

Dr. Jb Minter: Yep. So he said, “Go to NC State, that is where you should go. They have one of the most premier wildlife and zoological programs, focus areas, at their College of Veterinary Medicine. You need to go there. I have several contacts there. You should get involved with them, do that.” So I was like, “OK.” I mean, he was my advisor. He was the one that was giving me advice at the time. And so I moved to North Carolina. Now, I will not tell you where I worked briefly. They’re powder blue.

Chancellor Woodson: UCLA?

Dr. Jb Minter: No. So I worked at UNC in a neuroscience lab at North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for a year while I gained some in-state residency. I applied to veterinary school, got in. And it kind of blossomed from there.

Chancellor Woodson: Well, you know, I was looking at your CV and what you do, and I have to believe you have about the coolest job in North Carolina, unless it’s being chancellor of NC State. I mean, to be clear. But it’s a pretty cool job. So talk about what a typical day is when you’ve got 70 or 80 keepers, or caregivers for animals here.

Dr. Jb Minter: Yep.

Chancellor Woodson: You’ve got 250 species of animals and 1,700, everything from butterflies to elephants.

Dr. Jb Minter: That is a true story.

Chancellor Woodson: So talk about a typical day in the life of Jb Minter.

Dr. Jb Minter: So the great thing about having this job and doing what I do is there’s no real typical day. And, honestly, that’s what drove me into zoological medicine. You talked about Muffy and Fluffy and doing that, those days are very similar, day to day. But here, I never know what I’m gonna see every day. So the only thing I can tell you that is similar every day is that I round with my staff, we talk about the cases that are gonna happen. And again, I may be seeing an elephant in the morning, I may be going to look at a cockroach in the afternoon. Again, yeah, you don’t think about that, do you? I mean, about a year ago I spayed a cockroach.

Chancellor Woodson: Wow. Ladies and gentlemen, we gotta take a minute to reflect. Spayed a cockroach?

Dr. Jb Minter: Mm hmm.

Chancellor Woodson: OK.

Dr. Jb Minter: Yep. That’s a small surgery. It is a small surgery, but a surgery that I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing. So we ended up talking to a bunch of entomologists out of NC State-

Chancellor Woodson: Of course.

Dr. Jb Minter: And trying to figure out, hey, what does the reproductive tract of a cockroach even look like? She had prolapsed something that needed to be fixed, and I was like, well, if we just take it away.

Chancellor Woodson: Prolapse? I’m good.

Dr. Jb Minter: It was sticking out.

Chancellor Woodson: OK, there we go, yeah.

Dr. Jb Minter: It should have been inside and it was outside.

Chancellor Woodson: Yeah, that’s a hernia, I’m with you now, OK.

Dr. Jb Minter: So we were like, we need to address this. And people were looking at me like, “Why don’t you just, it’s a cockroach.” And I was like, “Well, every animal here deserves the same level of care.” Be it a cockroach, be it an elephant, they all deserve what I can give them. And sometimes that’s spaying them.

Chancellor Woodson: Sometimes.

Dr. Jb Minter: Just sometimes, you never know. So again, that’s one of the wonderful things about this job, is nothing is the same. It’s always different.

Chancellor Woodson: And you talked about, you reached out to entomologists at NC State. Talk about that relationship because I know this zoo, and your role in the zoo, is very important to keeping connected. And you interned here, or you worked here as a student at NC State. So talk about the relationship.

Dr. Jb Minter: So this relationship is long-standing. I mean, if you go back far enough, the first dean of the vet school, Terrence Curtin, if I’m not mistaken, hired Michael Stoskopf. And Michael Stoskopf was hired to really develop out the zoological kind of focus area within NC State. Shortly after he was hired, he hired his wife, Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf. And then right after that, they made that connection with my predecessor, Dr. Mike Loomis. Mike Loomis was the chief veterinarian for the North Carolina Zoo for over 30 years.

Chancellor Woodson: Wow.

Dr. Jb Minter: So they developed that, and the three of them kind of sat down and said, “What are we gonna do here? How can we make things better for wildlife?” And how do you make things better for wildlife is you put more people out there; you train people that care about wildlife as much as you do. So the three of them sat together and they said, “Let’s start a program. Let’s start a residency program.” The American College of Zoological Medicine, relatively new at that time, the residency that we started here, they started at North Carolina State and North Carolina Zoo, was the first accredited three-year program in the American College of Zoological Medicine.

Chancellor Woodson: And that’s a level of board certification?

Dr. Jb Minter: That is a board certification. So when you go through that program, it’s additional training after vet school. And at the end, you become a board-certified zoological medicine specialist. So they developed this program, that program has expanded. From the three of them, there are now 11 of us. Between NC State, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the North Carolina Zoo, and we now incorporate all three of the aquariums along the coast. So that program has just grown exponentially. So my connection, obviously you said I did my residency here with North Carolina State and the North Carolina Zoo. So I have that kind of built-in connection with the residency program. Michael Stoskopf, Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf, and Michael Loomis all trained me. So I was trained by those people that founded that program. So that connection between our institutions, between the North Carolina Zoo and NC State is long-lasting. And with me in this position, I don’t plan on going anywhere. I plan on retiring here at the North Carolina Zoo. And, which means we will just continue to develop that relationship and kind of make and just flourish that.

Chancellor Woodson: Well, you know, I think about your job, and I think about zoological medicine, and you think about a human medical doctor, they really have to worry about one species. It must be a real challenge to think about providing care. And you, earlier in our discussion, you talked about equal care, regardless of whether it’s a cockroach or a very valuable, you know, African elephant. How do you train to understand the physiology, anatomy and chemistry and biochemistry of so many different species?

Dr. Jb Minter: So you can ask that question —

Chancellor Woodson: Big books, I’m sure.

Dr. Jb Minter: Yeah. Lots and lots of big books. So when you think about human medicine, and I mean, there’s some jokes that we could tell about M.D.s, and how they only treat one species.

Chancellor Woodson: Yeah. Talking a little smack now here, you know.

Dr. Jb Minter: But when you think about the amount of knowledge that’s out there, the body of literature, it’s immense. Because there is so much work that’s being done in human medicine. Now you take a subset of that and say, OK, this is what we know about veterinary medicine. It’s large, but nowhere near as large as human medicine. Now you take even a smaller subset of that literature and say, how much of that is about zoological species? And it’s pretty small. Now, it’s growing exponentially and has been for the last decade. It continues to grow. But when you say, “How do you how to treat all of these different species?” What you have to be able to do is take a leap of faith. So, obviously, I was trained-

Chancellor Woodson: Well, spaying a cockroach, that’s a leap of faith.

Dr. Jb Minter: That is a leap of faith. So I obviously, I was trained by extremely smart individuals at NC State. But most of that coursework is about your, what I would call domesticated or companion animals. Dogs and cats, horses, cows, sheeps, goats, pigs, things of that nature. We get a little bit, because it’s NC State and we have a pretty good zoological program, we’d learn a little bit about your birds, we’d learn a little bit about reptiles and things of that nature. But really, we don’t learn about things that you see at the zoo. So you don’t learn about tigers, you don’t learn about elephants or rhinos. So what you have to do is you have to start thinking about this, what evolutionary shares that same pathway?

Chancellor Woodson: I don’t know.

Dr. Jb Minter: So we were talking just briefly about a gazelle, a Thomson’s gazelle. And I have to say, well, there’s not a lot of information about Thomson’s gazelles, but what is evolutionarily similar to that? A cow.

Chancellor Woodson: Are they ruminants?

Dr. Jb Minter: They are both, yeah, Thomson’s gazelle is a ruminant. So again, you take that information that you know and you make really strong, educated guesses about the health care, the treatment regimes, and what you may do for a Thomson’s gazelle that you would for a cow. But all these different species have their own little unique quirks, their own little unique health issues. So you do have to understand a little bit about that.

Chancellor Woodson: Jb, one of the things that I think, you know, that we’ve had a really challenging year last year at NC State with our student mental health and wellness. And one of the things that was a real bright spot for our students, they had a trip to the zoo.

Dr. Jb Minter: Yeah.

Chancellor Woodson: And this year, my understanding is that our health and wellness group is partnered with the North Carolina Zoo for our students, again, during wellness day to have a tromp to the zoo and coming out here next spring. So talk a little bit about what this zoo and what our connection with animals, what it really can mean for all of our mental health and how the zoo plays such an important role in reconnecting all of us back to nature and understanding the human-animal bond.

Dr. Jb Minter: So look behind us. I mean, this zoo, I kinda mentioned a little bit earlier the expanse of this zoo, 500 acres developed out. So I always like to say, when you come to the North Carolina Zoo, you are walking in the woods and you just happen to see a couple African and North American animals scattered throughout. It is a beautiful park. And people way smarter than me have looked at the benefits, both physical and mental aspects of being out in nature. So obviously walking around, this is a lot of park, so you’re gonna be walking a lot, so that physical activity is gonna be good for you. But just being out in nature has been shown to be beneficial, not only to reducing depression, but it’s good for anxiety, it’s good for stress relief. I read a paper probably about six months ago that looked at the resilience, if you spend a lot more time in nature, you have more resilience to stressful events. So if you’re exposed to those stressful events, you reset yourself a lot better if you’ve been exposed to nature. And they went into talking about fractals and all types of really cool individual things about being out in nature. But this park, when you come out here, again, you’re kind of immersed in it. And not only are you seeing the animals and developing environmental awareness, empathy for animals that are kind of in human care, but you’re also learning about conservation. And we’re trying to kind of impart that on you so that you can understand the importance of that and how that’s gonna help future generations. But it also, for the kids at NC State, it gets you out of your dorm room, it gets you exposed to people. Hopefully bringing you out here, you’re gonna come out here with friends or family, builds that bond. I mean, I hate to see it that more and more kids are spending more time on social media and not engaging with people one-on-one.

Chancellor Woodson: This is a different kind of social media.

Dr. Jb Minter: This is a different kind of social media.

Chancellor Woodson: Well, thank you for the partnership.

Dr. Jb Minter: Oh, yes.

Chancellor Woodson: And for opening the zoo to our students. But also, you know, thank the people of North Carolina.

Dr. Jb Minter: Yeah.

Chancellor Woodson: This zoo is celebrating in 2024, 50 years.

Dr. Jb Minter: That is a true story.

Chancellor Woodson: And that’s a testament to the leadership of the state. And in fact, recently, I know you and your colleagues here at the zoo are really proud that the legislature funded to create the Asian exhibit, which is under construction now.

Dr. Jb Minter: Sure is.

Chancellor Woodson: So they continue to invest in this zoo, largely because they know the benefit that it brings to the citizens of the state. And thank you for your leadership in helping to do that.

Dr. Jb Minter: Thank you, sir.

Chancellor Woodson: You’ve got a lot of different species and a lot of animals here. Do you have a favorite?

Dr. Jb Minter: Oh yeah.

Chancellor Woodson: You’re not supposed to pick one.

Dr. Jb Minter: Oh, I know, I do.

Chancellor Woodson: My grandkids are here and I can’t-

Dr. Jb Minter: Don’t pick one.

Chancellor Woodson: Yeah, no, OK.

Dr. Jb Minter: You’re on film.

Chancellor Woodson: Yeah.

Dr. Jb Minter: So yeah, I definitely have a favorite. My favorite is a female chimpanzee named Tammy.

Chancellor Woodson: Oh, Tammy, yeah. So how did Tammy win your heart?

Dr. Jb Minter: Well, initially she, so in my residency, Tammy hated me. She would spit at me as she’d see me.

Chancellor Woodson: We’ve all had this experience.

Dr. Jb Minter: Yeah, we did. And it became my mission to change that. So during my residency, I would go down to the cat-chimp building, which is where they house them at nighttime, and I would go down there and spend time with her. I’d buy my love. I’d bring mints, I’d bring treats.

Chancellor Woodson: Mints.

Dr. Jb Minter: It’s always something.

Chancellor Woodson: I was thinking flowers. But, you know, it is a chimp.

Dr. Jb Minter: No. She wants something tasty. So I would bring different food items and I would engage with her and work on behavior and things of that nature, just so she would see me as somebody that she did not hate. And this took a long time, but at the end of that residency, she no longer spit on me. And she actually had a fondness. When I would come down, she’d be like, oh, that’s the guy that gives me mints.

Chancellor Woodson: Yeah, there we go.

Dr. Jb Minter: And I came back as an associate veterinarian a couple years later and continued that. I now continue to go down and visit with her. Have nothing to do medically down there at that building, I just come to say hello. When I go in the front of the building, and basically where the guests are, she’ll see me, she’ll pop her head up, and oftentimes she will walk over to me.

Chancellor Woodson: Well, Jb, you stand out. You’re a good-looking guy.

Dr. Jb Minter: Well, it’s the lack of hair and the blueness, but she knows who I am. I mean, she comes up and she’ll what we call fist bump. She’ll come up and push her hand on the glass and she’ll let me know that she’s there. And then oftentimes she’ll go back and lay back in her hammock.

Chancellor Woodson: How old is Tammy?

Dr. Jb Minter: She is just over 50.

Chancellor Woodson: Wow.

Dr. Jb Minter: So the thing to me is that, I realize that she doesn’t have a lot longer left. And that’s where obviously part of my job is, obviously, I mean, I get to do some really cool stuff, don’t get me wrong. But I also get to see a lot of the animals, because they are shorter-lived than I am, a lot of these animals will die in my care. And it’s that human-animal bond, and especially when you develop that type of relationship with a chimp, or an animal, you watch them, some of them, I watch these animals grow from neonates all the way up to geriatric, and then they pass away. So that’s hard.

Chancellor Woodson: Well, I thought it was gonna be Mr. and Ms. Wuf, you know, as your favorite, you know, they’re mine, but — You got any treatment regime for, I mean, Mr. and Ms. Wuf are worn out after a big weekend of athletics. They had a big basketball game, you know, that was, so anyway, you may have to come and give some care to them.

Dr. Jb Minter: I mean, the one thing I would say is that you gotta make sure they stay on the preventative health program. Make sure they stay healthy.

Chancellor Woodson: Ah, yeah.

Dr. Jb Minter: So after those long weekends, make sure they get some rest. Make sure you’re feeding them a good diet. So yeah, just keep ’em on that good preventative health program. Just like you and I, we gotta go to the vet.

Chancellor Woodson: Oh, yeah. I’m working on it, I’m working on it. Well, this has been great, Jb, thank you so much for talking with us today and talking about the relationship between NC State and the North Carolina Zoo. We’re very proud of you.

Dr. Jb Minter: Thank you.

Chancellor Woodson: And very proud that you got to come back to North Carolina.

Dr. Jb Minter: I keep coming back.

Chancellor Woodson: Yeah. Well, hopefully this time to stay for a long time.

Dr. Jb Minter: That’s the plan.

Chancellor Woodson: All right. And Wolfpack Nation, thanks for joining us for another edition of Red Chair Chats. Go Pack.