Monday, March 12, 2007

Tiger Project (Day 1)

Today we started "The Tiger Project" as it is called around here. The HDZ is nationally renowned for their great successes in breeding tigers. Much of that success is thanks to the years of dedicated research that has gone into tiger reproduction. The Project is a continuation of that research. Over the course of this week, we will be immobilizing several of the female tigers as part of a hormone study and in preparation for further reproductive work with them this spring. During these immobilizations, the tigers are also given a complete physical, a teeth cleaning (if needed), any needed vaccinations, and blood collecting for routine analysis and banking. The tiger at left is just starting to wake up after everything was finished. That was about all the blog-worthy stuff we did for today!

I have been at the HDZ for just over 3 weeks now, and I have learned several interesting lessons about zoo medicine and the differences you can expect when compared to more conventional practice. Since I expect that I won't have as many different things to talk about since we will mostly be immobilizing tigers all week, I'll try to impart some of the lessons I have learned thus far.
Lesson 1: If you want the animals to like you, do not become a veterinarian, particularly at a zoo. This is something that many vets in conventional practice encounter as well. No matter how nice you are to your patients, there is a majority that will simply not like you. Whether it is the car ride in, the commotion at the office, the smells, the sounds, or any number of other reasons, very few animals enjoy trips to the vet. The animals typically express their fear in one of two ways: either they start trembling and become skittish or they go on the offensive and become overly pushy or downright aggressive. In a zoo setting, those reactions are magnified by the size and "wildness" of the animals you are dealing with. With many of the animals, particularly the more intelligent creatures such as the great apes and the big cats, they immediately recognize the zoo vet in the crowd and their behavior will change dramatically. They know when they see either vet, that they have a chance of getting darted and they are very unhappy about that prospect. Some, like the tiger to the right, simply try to hide. Others are not so subtle. A cat that is perfectly calm and content may suddenly jump up when they see that vet and charge, hackles raised, teeth barred and roar echoing. The apes, particularly the silverback gorillas, very commonly will show their "toughness" by rushing the front of the exhibit and banging on the glass with their fists. This can be quite startling, particularly to guests that are not expecting it. Once I was walking through the gorilla house with one of the vets. We were walking fairly fast as we just wanted to check on the progress of one of the gorillas, then leave for the next thing on the schedule. Well, one of the big silverbacks saw us walk by in the hall. He immediately jumped up and rushed the glass, completely terrifying the guest who had been watching the previously calm and apparently docile animal. She backed up so fast she crashed right into us! It gets to the point that, in order to not overly stress the animals, the vets don't walk out past the exhibits unless they are dressed in very different clothing than the animals are used to seeing them in. So, if you want zoo animals to like you, become a keeper. They won't like you if you are the vet, no matter how much you like them!
It was a beautiful day here in Omaha today. It reached the 60s (it may even have broken 70) for the first time since last fall. All of the animals were clearly glad to have such warm weather. The American Black Bears were particularly rambunctious today. I'll end with several pictures of them wrestling.

1 comment:

Bouska said...

Only exception to Rule #1: The just about every Lab in the world will be happy, even if you are poking them with needles or anything of that sort.

Love the blog so much more interesting than radiology!