Friday, March 9, 2007

Polar Bears and Mechanical Bulls

This first patient today was a ~650 lbs polar bear! I was able to do a lot with this bear! First, I darted her with a different darting system than I had used previously. Due to the size of bears and other considerations, a larger volume of drugs is needed to immobilize them than will fit in the standard blow pipe butane-charged dart that I described earlier when we vaccinated some jaguars. Today I used a Pneu-dart which works on a similar principle to the butane darts, but the charge instead is gunpowder. When the dart hits the animal, the force sets off a firing pin inside the dart which expands and pushes the drug into the animal. Due to the amount of force needed to set it off and to deliver it, the dart is put into a CO2 pistol like the one pictured at right. The pistol is charged to the appropriate amount of pressure given the weight of the dart, the distance to the animal and the type of animal. Too low and the dart won't fly true, powder in the dart won't ignite, and/or the charge won't go off. Too high and you'll hurt the animal.
So, besides getting to shoot the dart, I was able to listen to the heart and lungs, draw blood (I got 35 cc +!), look into the eyes and scale the teeth of this amazing animal! Yep, those are my hands in the bear's mouth at left! It was absolutely amazing! First of all, I did not realize how incredibly soft polar bears are. Their coat has an amazingly unique texture to it, and almost feels something like fleece. Secondly, polar bear saliva is different as well. It is very mucousy -- almost gel-like.

The other polar bear was very interested in what we were doing. She was on exhibit, but stayed by the door the whole time, watching us through the grate. The picture at right makes it look like she is closer to me than she really was, but she made sure to remind us that she was there constantly. Every time one of us would move around, she would get very excited. She even roared a few times, which was particularly impressive since we were in a cement-walled holding cage where it echoed very well. There is no doubt in my mind she would have been happy to take a bite of any of us! They may be soft, but there is nothing cuddly about a polar bear! What a great experience!

Our next patient was this ancient, adorable little mouse possum. She had damaged the end of her tail. After cleaning it up, bandaging it and giving her some pain medication and antibiotics, she was good to go.

Then this evening, there was another party at the zoo. This one was for all zoo staff. It had a "hoedown" theme, so many people came dressed up in gaudy cowboy outfits. There was a very good local country western singer, a spitting contest and a mechanical bull, among other events. It was quite a party! The bull was definitely the favorite attraction, and many of the supervisors rode it, much to the delight of the staff who never thought they would.

And now I'm pretty tired. I think I will imitate this Swift fox and go to bed!

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