Page 19 - Scene Magazine 41-03 March 2016
P. 19

At The Zoo
Preventative Veterinary Healthcare in Zoos
By JEANEttE NASh, Binder Park zoo Veterinarian technician
Many great ac- tivities are avail- able to entertain and engage the mind, but few are as exciting and captivating as a trip to the zoo. Children and adults alike can
admire many unique and exotic animals which provoke curiosity about what they eat, where they sleep, whether they are trained, and how they receive care. While these care aspects are a great start- ing point to learning about these amaz- ing animals, some of the equally import- ant details such as medical care are often overlooked.
Similar to domestic dogs and cats, all zoo animals are cared for by trained medical staff to keep them happy and healthy. When pet owners take their an- imals to the veterinarian, they are seen and evaluated in a similar way to the an- imals at the zoo. They all receive phys- ical exams, vaccinations, medications, diagnostic evaluations and a variety of other medical care just like pets at home. The key difference between zoo animals and pets is that zoo animals are wild and pets are domesticated. Domesticated an- imals are generally tame in nature, while working with wild animals is often dan- gerous and challenging. Keeping both the animals and staff safe when provid- ing medical and husbandry care is a top priority; therefore staff always follows safety protocols and training. Although some zoo animals can be handled while awake and alert, the unpredictable and erratic behavior of most zoo animals re- quires sedation. Anesthesia, or induced sleep, provides the safest method for keepers and veterinary staff to examine and work hands on with the animals.
Every animal undergoes a wellness exam known as a full physical exam- ination to look at their general health. The examination includes all parts of the body from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. Every species has its own normal values and references to phys- ical wellbeing, and every day more in- formation is collected from zoos across the nation and compiled to create a full spectrum of data on all species. With ev-
ery physical exam, veterinary staff per- forms diagnostic work in order to collect maximal data on that animal because every hands on interaction presents risk and potential danger. Diagnostic work includes 1) radiographs, which show the skeletal system and joints; 2) ultra- sounds for intestinal organs and preg- nancies checks; 3) blood work for over- all organ and physiological function; 4) cytology of various samples for gen- eral health; and 5) parasite testing. Some species that are prone to specific diseases will undergo additional testing, such as testing primates for tuberculosis (TB), which is a respiratory disease also found in humans. Vaccinations are also given to all collection animals. Veterinary staff have many other ways to evaluate animal health with minimal interaction. Collec- tion of discarded waste, such as feath- ers or feces, can provide a multitude of diagnostic information, including identi- fication of the presence of parasites and other oddities.
Although veterinary staff is essential in providing medical care, it is ultimately the keepers who take on the primary care of an animal. Keepers have a responsi-
bility to know their animals’ husbandry needs as well as each animal’s behavior and personality. The keepers’ knowledge allows them to notice when an animal appears ill or injured, which can be dif- ficult to identify. Wild animals are pro- grammed to hide pain and weakness, so subtle changes in daily behaviors are often the first indication of a health con- cern. Zookeepers also administer medi- cation for both chronic and acute cases. “Medicating animals is like medicating children, you need to be creative about how you give it.” (Claire Roy- Zookeep- er) Hiding a small pill in a tasty treat is often enough to fool your average critter. Zookeepers play a vital role to the health and well-being of each animal.
The science of animal caretaking is a difficult yet rewarding experience. The responsibility of taking care of the med- ical and overall health of animals might not be the most visible or appreciated aspect of the zoo, but it certainly is one of the most important. Preventative mea- sures are vital to an animal’s ongoing good health. It is a job well done when an animal is able to be out on exhibit for zoo guests to appreciate.
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