Dr. Karra grew up on the west coast of Canada, near the city of Vancouver. She completed her Bachelor of Science in biology at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island. During this time, she started working as a staff wildlife rehabilitator at a large wildlife rehabilitation center. Here, Dr. Karra fell in love with wildlife rehabilitation and wildlife medicine. Following her undergraduate degree, Dr. Karra moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to attend the Western College of Veterinary Medicine with the goal of becoming a wildlife veterinarian. During this time, she continued to dedicate herself to working with wildlife. After receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, she did a one-year small-animal rotating internship at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and then joined the team at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. In her time at the Wildlife Center, she has held the position of veterinary intern, senior veterinary intern, research fellow, and is currently the director of veterinary services. Dr. Karra loves teaching interns, veterinary students, and wildlife rehabilitators from all over the world about wildlife rehabilitation and wildlife medicine. She enjoys all aspects of her job but is particularly fond of treating all things tiny. You will often find her creating micro-bandages and miniature splits for her littlest patients. Her professional goals are centered around advancing the profession of wildlife rehabilitation and learning as much as we can from the patients that come through our doors. Dr. Karra spends her free time with her ever-changing menagerie of pets and her partner, Dr. Patrick, who is also a veterinarian.
Meet the Staff
Dr. Karra PierceDirector of Veterinary Services
Dr. Olivia SchiermeyerVeterinary Intern
Dr. Olivia grew up in Culpeper, Virginia, and always knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. She completed her Bachelor of Science in biology at the University of Mary Washington, then earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. During her veterinary education, Dr. Olivia completed externships with several wildlife rehabilitation centers in the U.S. and Guatemala. Her experiences with wildlife as a student solidified her love of the field of wildlife rehabilitation medicine and for all of our wild creatures. After receiving her DVM, Dr. Olivia spent two years working as a shelter veterinarian in Wisconsin before moving back to Virginia. Dr. Olivia loves treating all of our native wildlife but is particularly fond of songbirds, bats, and snakes. Dr. Olivia enjoys hiking, birdwatching, painting with her partner Dr. Ryan (who is also a veterinarian), and spending time with all of her beloved pets.
Dr. Marit BakkenVeterinary Intern
Dr. Marit Bakken is originally from Appleton, WI. She grew up being inspired by the amazing wildlife and scenery she saw on her family's vacations across the USA and decided she wanted to work with wildlife in some aspect, whether that be research, medicine, or policy. Dr. Marit went to Iowa State University, where she majored in animal ecology and minored in psychology. She spent her summers working for the Iowa DNR and doing research on small-mammal distribution and honeybee behavior and physiology. She returned to Wisconsin for veterinary school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she did research with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center on HPAI in mesopredator species. After graduation, Dr. Marit completed a small-animal rotating internship at VCA Valley Animal Hospital and the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, AZ, and learned all about living in the desert for a year. She's delighted to come to Virginia for the wildlife veterinary internship and hopes to combine her love for wildlife rehabilitation, emergency medicine and surgery, wildlife research, and education. She loves all native species, but her absolute favorites include bats, waterfowl, and amphibians. At home she enjoys hanging out with her husband Jered and their crew of one tripod dog (Harold), two cats (Casper and Clara), and one guinea pig (Mellie) as well as hiking, exploring local cuisine and historical sites, reading, and playing piano.
Jess RansierLicensed Veterinary Technician Supervisor
Jess is originally from Baldwinsville, New York, a small suburb outside Syracuse. She graduated in 2015 from Unity College, with a B.S. in Captive Wildlife Care and Education and a minor in Zoology. After graduating from Unity, she completed a six-month fellowship at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation for Wildlife (C.R.O.W.) in Sanibel, FL, which solidified her love of wildlife and veterinary medicine. After completing her fellowship at C.R.O.W., Jess went back to school to pursue a degree in Veterinary Technology at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. Upon graduation from GCC, Jess joined the WCV team and completed the 13- month diagnostic LVT internship during the 2018-2019 season. She was then subsequently hired as one of the full-time LVT staff in July of 2019 and is now the LVT supervisor, which is one of three full-time LVT positions. Jess loves working with all wildlife but is especially fond of Barred owls. In her spare time, Jess enjoys spending time outdoors with her beloved dog, Bonnie, and working on small projects around the house with her husband, Anthony.
Rachel WolffeLicensed Veterinary Technician
Rachel grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey, a suburb of New York City. Her love of all creatures and the outdoors led her to attend the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She graduated with a B.S. in conservation biology. After graduating, she moved to Lexington, Virginia with her family. Rachel then went back to school to pursue a degree in Veterinary Technology through Blue Ridge Community College. While in vet tech school, she started volunteering at the Wildlife Center, first with the rehab department, and then with the treatment team. After graduating from vet tech school, Rachel spent some time in small-animal medicine but realized that her passion is for wildlife and conservation. This led her back to the Wildlife Center for a 12-week externship during the summer of 2021. Rachel is very excited to be continuing as the Vet Tech Intern for 2021-2022. While she does not have one favorite animal, she is especially fond of reptiles and amphibians. In her free time, Rachel enjoys reading, baking, and hiking in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains with her dog Tilly.
Jenn DunsheathVeterinary Technician Intern
Jenn is from Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Her love for animals started early in life, and she pursued her dream by obtaining a B.A. in biology from Seton Hall University in 2020, followed by a Veterinary Technology degree from Bergen Community College in 2022. During her college years, Jenn volunteered as a docent at the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, shadowed her local veterinarian, and completed two student externships at small-animal emergency practices, gaining valuable experience in the field. Jenn also loves to travel and learn about new cultures, and in 2018, Jenn traveled to Oudtshoorn, South Africa, to volunteer at Cango Wildlife Ranch, where she assisted in medical treatments, feedings, and animal enrichment. Her travels continued in the Fall of 2019, when she sailed on Semester at Sea, studying the conservation of marine megafauna, tropical ecology and evolution, and global environmental systems -- observing the species she was learning about firsthand in the Strait of Gibraltar, the Galapagos Islands, and the rainforests of Ghana and Costa Rica. In her free time, Jenn likes photography, getting overly competitive at trivia nights, and face-timing with her family, friends, and dog, Olive, back in NJ. For Jenn, the best part of working with wildlife is being challenged to think outside the box and put her creativity to good use. She is so excited to be a part of the WCV staff!
Alex OlveraWildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor
Alejandra (Alex) was born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico on the border of Texas. Along with her family, Alex immigrated to Brownsville, Texas at a young age and was raised in between the Mexican-American border. The rich fauna of South Texas played a crucial role in her passion for wildlife. Alex began her docent training at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville in 2009. Alex participated in outreach events and also assisted keepers with husbandry duties. She completed her Bachelor’s in Biology at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley in 2013 and began working in the Russel Aquarium inside Gladys Porter Zoo where she took care of a collection of fish native to the Gulf of Mexico, elasmobranchs, and a small reptile collection. Alex later transferred to the carnivore and gorilla department of Gladys Porter Zoo, where she took care of different species of bears, large cats, wild dogs, and primates. After a couple of years, she began transitioning into the animal health department clinic where she trained as a wildlife rehabilitator and veterinary assistant/technician under the direction of the senior veterinarian. As part of her training and duties, Alex was part of the marine mammal stranding team and natural disaster response team, and coordinated training for oil-spill certifications and training. Alex helped establish a Certified Veterinarian Assistant (CVA) program with the local high school; the program included hands-on workshops and online lessons focusing on zoo and wildlife medicine and helped Alex realize the importance of mentoring and teaching in this field. She obtained her Masters in Biology in the fall of 2020, where she focused her thesis on the Vitamin D serology of captive African Tree Pangolins (Manis tricuspis). Alex received a Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator (CWR) certification from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and a CVA certificate from the Texas Veterinary Board in 2020. She completed a veterinarian technician program in spring 2023 shortly before starting at the Wildlife Center. Alex enjoys spending time with her pets, especially her dogs, as well as taking photographs. Alex enjoys working with the diverse fauna of Virginia and continuing to teach and mentor students interested in wildlife rehabilitation.
McKenzie StewartRehabilitation Team Lead
McKenzie (Mac) was born and raised in Orlando, Florida, where she grew up camping and spending time outdoors. She earned her BS in natural resource conservation from the University of Florida in 2017 and has since worked in wildlife conservation and rehabilitation across the southeast. Mac particularly enjoyed a year spent in south Florida working on several field research projects, including a native rodent population study and a project tracking and capturing invasive Burmese pythons and Argentine Tegus in the Florida Everglades; this is where her love for reptiles began! Mac moved to Philadelphia in 2019 to work as a veterinary technician with companion animals, but she quickly realized her true passion was working with wildlife. This led her to move to Virginia for a seasonal position with Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary, just across the mountain from the Wildlife Center. She was thrilled to join WCV’s permanent rehabilitation staff in the fall of 2021. Although Mac loves working with many kinds of wildlife, she is particularly fond of Virginia Opossums, herons, Ospreys, and all snake species. Outside of her work at WCV, Mac enjoys exploring the hiking trails around Charlottesville, playing board games with her friends, and spending time with her cat Theodore and her snake Kevin.
Elizabeth DuffyWildlife Rehabilitator
Liz was born and raised in Carmel, Indiana, in a large suburb of Indianapolis. She graduated early from Purdue University in 2018 with a B.S. in interdisciplinary agriculture with minors in wildlife science and natural resources/environmental science. Liz's love of wildlife started while she was in college when she began volunteering and later interning at Providence Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Westfield, Indiana. During her time there, the director of the center began teaching and providing her with a base knowledge and tools to pursue a career as a wildlife rehabilitator. After graduating, Liz took a six-month position at the Miami Seaquarium, where she worked closely with the staff to take care of and monitor resident and rehabilitating manatees and sea turtles. From there, she became a fellow at C.R.O.W (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) in Sanibel, Florida for six months working with all native Florida species. After moving from Florida, Liz completed a season at the Indianapolis Zoo as a macaw trainer to assist with training and running the free-flight shows. Liz also worked as a veterinary technician before joining the Wildlife Center as a wildlife rehabilitator in the fall of 2021. Liz’s hobbies include drawing, painting, watching new shows with her husband, and hanging out with her bird, Green Bean. Liz enjoys working with young mammals and all birds (especially waterfowl) and is excited to have the opportunity to work with a wider variety of native mammals.
Lauren SwinsonHospital Administration Assistant
Lauren Swinson is a Virginia native with a life-long interest in wildlife and what we can do to minimize human impact on our wild neighbors. After more than a decade as a stay-at-home mom, Lauren joined the front-desk team in 2020 to put her enthusiasm for wildlife and people skills to work helping the community navigate how to peacefully coexist with wildlife, and to discern the proper time for human intervention. Lauren has since moved into a new role as hospital administration assistant, where she continues to support the mission of the Wildlife Center through her efforts by assisting with the volunteer program, ordering supplies for the hospital, and coordinating veterinary externships, in addition to other responsibilities. In her free time, Lauren enjoys exploring nature with her family, making art, reading, and gardening.
Lilly FarmerSeasonal Veterinary Assistant
Lilly was born and raised in a small town in central Virginia. As a child, she would spend hours capturing and identifying insects in her backyard or checking out every animal-based book in her local library. While this passion had dwindled as life continued on, it was reignited in Lilly's senior year of high school when she completed a capstone project on the role emotions play in wildlife education. She learned about the important emotional connections that wildlife educators facilitate between their students and the environment and how these connections lead to environmentally friendly behaviors. During this project, Lilly completed a short internship at a Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary, a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Nelson County. Lilly fell in love with the world of wildlife rehabilitation, medicine, and education, and eventually found her way to the front-desk coordinator position at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. In 2023, Lilly moved to the "other side" of the building and took a seasonal position in the hospital. In her free time, Lilly enjoys hiking, reading, upcycling, and playing with her two ferrets, Oliver and Frankie.
Ben ColeSeasonal Veterinary Assistant
Ben is a Charlottesville, Virginia native who grew up hearing field guides instead of bedtime stories and visiting the Wildlife Center of Virginia on field trips and open house days, making the opportunity to be a part of the team at WCV an absolute dream come true for him. Ben graduated from The University of Hartford in 2012 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting, which launched him into seven years of working as a New York-based professional actor, appearing in theatrical and film productions all around the country. Returning to the central Virginia area after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Ben completed the Center's rehabilitation externship in the late summer/early fall, thrilled to have the opportunity to explore a passion previously deferred. In 2021, he completed a one-year wildlife rehabilitation internship, and then took the skills that he learned and applied them to a seasonal wildlife rehabilitation position in 2022 at the New Mexico Wildlife Center. In early 2023, Ben found his way back to the Wildlife Center of Virginia as a seasonal veterinary assistant. In his free time, he enjoys fishing, watching bad movies, and cheering on his beloved University of Virginia Cavaliers.