Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cat-ching Up

You’ll have to pardon the absolutely terrible pun, but I’ve been dealing with a lot of the cats here at the HDZ today…or their files, anyway. It’s time for vaccinations, so I’ve been given the job of going through all of the files on all of the cats in the collections, figuring out who needs what and how much of everything we need. Wednesdays are the day of the week when much of the staff has various meetings. This morning I got to sit in on the Animal Planning meeting where the vets meet with the curators and coordinate schedules as to what animals need what. I can tell you for this meeting that we have some cool stuff coming up, so stay tuned!

So, back to the cat file project….All of the major mammals in the collection are anesthetized yearly for their annual physical exams as a part of their regular health care. During these exams, every body system is evaluated and blood is taken for evaluation, research and banking. Minor health care work is also done at this time such as teeth cleaning and vaccinations. Whenever an animal needs to be anesthetized for other reasons throughout the year (injury, reproductive work, transport, radiographs/ultrasound), a full physical exam and blood draws are also routinely done as well as vaccination boosters, if needed. As far as the cat files go, I have gone through everything from "Bobcat" to "Serval" and just have all of the tigers left which I should hopefully finish tomorrow.

The cats are routinely vaccinated against rabies, tetanus, FVRCP (feline rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia virus), FeLV (feline leukemia virus) and canine distemper virus (CDV). Canine Distemper, you say? Aren’t these felines? Well, big cats are particularly susceptible to this virus so they need to be vaccinated against it. As it so happens, ferrets are also very susceptible and Merial produces a modified-live vaccine against CDV specifically for ferrets. Without getting into too much depth as to the reasons why the ferret vaccine is used in big cats, just know that it is safer and more effective at inducing immunity than the canine vaccine. So why am I going into this? Well, due to demand, Merial keeps stopping production of the vaccine, then starting it up again. The zoo has been trying to get hold of vaccine for awhile now to booster the cats, and finally got a shipment in…so now everyone needs to get vaccinated. And, while we are vaccinating with the distemper vaccine, we may as well throw on any other vaccines that the cats need to reduce the number of times they’ll need to be stuck in the future.

So, how do we vaccinate them? It’s not like we can restrain them like we do our household cat. We use blow darts! Pictured at right is the blow pipe and a few of the darts that we use. So you can have an idea to the size, the needles on the darts are 1.5” long. I’ll try to take a closer picture of a dart and explain to you how they work later (because it is really quite cool). And pictured at left is the target I was shooting at from about 20 feet away at the end of my first practice session. Yes, those other holes in the box were made by me…and it doesn’t count the several that bounced off the wall or the floor…but not too shabby for the first day, eh? Since we have so many cats to vaccinate, I will likely get to try my had at it, so it should be interesting!

As to the rest of the day, we also did the necropsies on the wallaby and the pronghorn. Unsurprisingly, the pronghorn had massive injuries secondary to the trauma she received. The parma wallaby likely had pneumonia, but we will need to wait for the histopath results to know for sure. In other news about the parma, I’m likely going to write a paper (possibly for publication!) on the hand-rearing of this particular joey. Parma wallabies are highly endangered, and no one has ever been able to hand-rear a baby of this species, particularly as young as he was (he was found in the exhibit several weeks ago and has been receiving around the clock care from the hospital staff since then). Even though he didn’t make it, the techniques they used it raising him to this age clearly worked well and it would be of value if their procedure was published to hopefully help other baby wallabies.

And today’s random picture: this is a common marmoset. To give you an idea of how small he is, look at the loris picture from the first post. He’s about that size, or maybe a little smaller.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Good and the Bad

Today was an especially busy day at the zoo. We started this morning examining several hyrax that appear to have a viral infection of some sort. Hopefully some supportive care and antibiotics against any secondary bacterial invaders will take care of them. They are neat little rodents that have a fantastic exhibit in the Desert Dome consisting of a series of rock ledges that allow them to scamper around above guests that are walking through. The picture at the left shows a group of hyrax cuddling together in the afternoon sun on exhibit.

Next we saw a Little Blue Penguin with a damaged beak. It is unclear how it happened, but the poor little fella’s lower beak was split right down the middle almost to its base. As you can imagine, due to the separate movement of the two halves, it is very painful so the beak had to be stabilized. The beak won’t heal back together, but will instead grow out slowly much like your finger nail or a horse hoof. As long as it doesn’t keep splitting, the beak should grow out normally with time. In order to stabilize it, a small pin was screwed into the end to hold the halves together and dental acrylic was placed for further support and to protect the ends of the pin. The picture shows the end product which will hopefully make him much more comfortable as his beak grows.

After he recovered from anesthesia, I met Timu, the Lowland Gorilla. Timu is actually a world-famous gorilla since she was the first “test-tube” gorilla. She will turn 12 years old this year, and is a favorite among the keepers and staff at the zoo due to her very easy-going nature. She had to be anesthetized today to remove a badly damaged tooth, and to repair a knee injury. Everything went very well. The first picture shows Timu on the x-ray table. Huck, one of the veterinary technicians, is getting ready to take blood on the far left of the picture. The two zoo vets are also in the picture. Dr. Julie Napier is up by the anesthetic machine, and Dr. Doug Armstrong is in the green shirt leaning over Timu. Also in the picture are two of the keepers. Especially with the great apes, there are at least two keepers always present to assist. The second picture is a better one showing Timu intubated and getting ready for surgery. Here you can see one keeper on either side holding each of her hands. They help to monitor her anesthetic depth by notifying the vet if they notice any tightening of her hand or other movement during the procedure. There are 14 gorillas at the HDZ, and there are plans in the near future to do echocardiograms on some of the males (heart disease is the leading cause of death in male gorillas), so I’m fortunate to get more opportunities to work with them!

Unfortunately, the afternoon did not go as well as the morning did. Some Addax where being brought to the HDZ and along with some Pronghorn antelope that were going to be transported further east. However, at some point during the trip, a divider came down in the trailer between the animals, and the Addax killed one Pronghorn and badly injured another. The injured antelope was brought here. Her most significant injuries were an open wound into her chest, and a deep wound into her abdomen. I was able to scrub in on the surgery, which was a great opportunity. The wound into her thorax and a torn lung lobe were repaired without incident, and a chest tube was placed. Unfortunately, too much of the small intestine of the antelope had been compromised and – due to the anatomy of the area – there was a question as to the viability of some of the other structures, so she had to be euthanized. And then the Parma Wallaby pictured above (which was being hand-raised by the staff) took a turn for the worse and died. We're not quite sure what happened with him, but hopefully necropsy results will help us figure out what happened.

So, it was a mixed day today. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow! I’ll end with a picture of one of the sloths right after he was given his evening meal. He certainly looks happy, doesn’t he! When I have time, I like to wander the zoo and just take pictures of all of the creatures. As you may have noticed in the first post, I’ve taken quite a few and will share some of my favorites with you. This one definitely ranks right up there! (you can click on the picture to see a larger may have to to see this guy's smile. :) )

Monday, February 26, 2007

Zoo News!

Greetings to all from the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha! Last week I started my 6 week rotation here. Due to some technical difficulties, I have been unable to go online until now, but will hopefully have daily updates from here on out. And because I have been unable to post my experiences yet, this particular one will be pretty long, so bear with me.

First, a little about the zoo itself: The Henry Doorly Zoo (HDZ) is situated on 130 acres right across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs, IA. It is has the largest collection of animals in the country, both in variety of species represented and in sheer numbers. There are over 900 species of animals on display here, and over 16,000 animals (if you count all of the fish). There are over 250 full-time workers and 650+ part-time workers and volunteers. Additionally, there is more active research in areas such as animal and plant conservation, genetics, nutrition, and reproduction going on here than at any other zoo in the country. Besides the main zoo, the HDZ also has a separate “safari park” where many of the large North American species are kept in more of a park setting. Bison, elk, and wolves are just some of the animals kept in this area.

One of the big reasons for all of the milestones this zoo has achieved is the work of Dr. Simmons, the zoo director. He was a veterinarian by trade, making HDZ the only zoo whose director is a vet. Through his direction, the zoo’s funding has increased dramatically, as have the number of large exhibits. Lately, the zoo had been averaging a large project every 2-3 years over the last ten years. Some of the recent additions include Gorilla Valley, the Desert Dome , the Kingdom of the Night (the largest nocturnal animal exhibit in the country) and the 3D Imax. Some of the projects that are in the works include a major renovation of the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom building which houses many of the small animals (project scheduled to be finished early April of this year), a butterfly garden, major renovation of the elephant and rhino exhibits and possibly even pandas!

So, now a little bit of what I am doing here. I am here for a 6 week externship where I have the opportunity to follow the veterinarians here and learn about zoo medicine. There are two full-time vets here at the moment, though they will be adding a third plus an intern in the near future. Additionally, there is a cadre of dedicated veterinary technicians, some of whom have been working at the HDZ for 30 years! I have already had the opportunity to work with them all, and am gratified by their helpfulness and amazed by their animal-handling skills and knowledge.

The nice thing about coming to an institution like the HDZ (besides all of the aforementioned great things about this zoo which sets it apart from others), is its focus on education. Not only is the zoo a great place for the public to come learn about animals, it is a great place for students. I am actually living in the zoo! No, not on exhibit… ;) I am living in a dorm area that was built especially for students in the Center for Conservation and Research (CCR) pictured at left. Actually, the window of my room is the top left window. My view is of the Desert Dome! It is amazing to be able to go for a walk and see the big cats, the primates and so many other amazing creatures whenever I want!

And here are a few examples of the procedures I have been involved with already:

Fishing cat: anesthetized for investigation of a possible urinary tract infection
African Wild Dogs: vaccinated puppies against rabies

Wyoming Toads: highly endangered amphibian in conservation program so 25 needed to be microchipped.

Gaur: anesthetized for semen collection and study comparing anesthetic protocols
Rock Hyrax: microchipped 8 new animals
American Black Bear: anesthetized to investigate hair loss around tail and back

Jaguar: anesthetized for routine exam

Racoon dog: nail trim and dental check
Parma Wallaby: being handraised by keeper staff

Pygmy Slow Loris: several teeth needed to be pulled
Little Blue Penguin: his cracked lower beak needed to be repaired (fortunately it was minor)
Baird's Ratsnake: abcess on snout

This is a short list of some of the things I have gotten to be involved with…and this only in the first week! It has already been an amazing experience, and I will attempt to post daily on some of the other things I get to do! This week we will be doing a lot of work with the gorillas, so I’ll hopefully have some interesting pictures. I already have tons of great pictures, but I think I've filled this post to the max already!