Thursday, March 8, 2007

Eatin' with the Fishes

We started today with the immobilization of a Gaur (Bos gaurus - now that's a Latin name that is clear!) bull today. These fellas are huge. Here is another picture that I posted several days ago. The bull we worked with today probably weighed around 2,200 lbs, and these fellas are all fat and muscle. They have an enormous hump on their shoulders which are easily taller than I am (5'6" on a good day :p) at their highest point, and their sheer size and bulk is very impressive. Added to that, they aren't the nicest creatures in the world. The bulls especially are notorious for their bad attitudes, and are historically difficult to manage. You cannot keep fully mature bulls together or they will beat each other up fairly severely. Those horns are very sharp, and they know hoe to take care of them. Several times I saw them meticulously running them up and down the large posts that make up the "fences" of their enclosures, cleaning and sharpening them carefully.

The reason we were immobilizing this bull was for several different studies. Whenever an animal is used for research, as much information as possible is gathered, so people of different fields always collaborate. For example, one of the studies that is being worked on is comparing different immobilization protocols in gaur. So, whenever they are "knocked down," very particular values are recorded such as blood pressure and blood gas analysis and such values are compared between drug protocols. Also evaluated are the time it takes for the animal to be initially affected by the drug, to "go sternal" (lying down with its legs tucked under it), "go lateral" (lying down on its side), get deep enough for "hands on" (when people can actually touch the animal safely), how long they stay anesthetized, and how long it takes them to get up after the reversal agents are given.

Aside from the immobilization study, there is also a lot of reproductive work going on with these animals. We collected semen on this bull which will be analyzed and frozen. Not only does the zoo have a large "live" animal collection, it also has a "frozen" collection. (yes, think Jurassic Park). The zoo has a large bank of frozen sperm, eggs and embryos from just about every species where you can collect such things and preserve them. This serves many functions. First and foremost, it provides a way to preserve genetic diversity. If another zoo wants to breed one of their gaur cows to one of the HDZ's bulls, it is far easier to send a straw of semen than an entire 1 ton animal. If something was ever to happen in the future such as a devastating disease, or natural disaster, or simple inbreeding of a population, these samples can be used decades down the line to introduce back some of the genetic diversity that used to be in the population, but was lost.

Well, enough about gaur for now! The other big even of the day was dinner, actually. The hospital had a special dinner to thank the relief veterinarians who help out when the zoo vets are both out of town, and/or there are specialized procedures that need to be done. The variety inherent in zoo work is a double-edged sword. Yes, it is amazing and interesting to be working on a toad one moment, a zebra the next, then a monkey, a bird or three and a snake all in the course of a few hours. However, it also means that you end up being something of a "Jack of All Trades but a Master of None." You end up knowing a little about everything (and a lot about something, if there is a particular area that you are especially interested in), but you may inevitably need to call someone who specializes in a particular species for help on certain things. So there was a dinner tonight thanking several area vets who volunteer a lot of time and knowledge to help out at the zoo. We had an excellently catered dinner right in the tunnel of the aquarium! It was very neat, and very classy. It was especially great talking to the different veterinarians about their different practices and specialties. There was everything from a vet who practices at a feline-only clinic to an equine specialist. It was great talking to them all! And, randomly, I ended up sitting at dinner right next to Dr. Simmons, the zoo director, who I actually hadn't met before! Quite an evening!

So, I'll end with a video keeping with the aquarium theme. This is a leafy sea dragon (Phycodurus eques), easily one of my very favorite marine animals. They are closely related to seahorses, but have one of the most clever camouflage techniques in the animal kingdom. Dr. Napier was telling me about a procedure out at the zoo in Boston where they actually did surgery on one of these guys to remove a tumor!

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