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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Zoo Medicine The early days

It was the early 70's and I was embarking on a new adventure working with Dr. Murray Fowler a Veterinarian who had recently took on the huge responsibility to develop the first ever program in Zoological Medicine in a Veterinary School at U.C.Davis,California. We were in a sense "Pioneers" and we were on a straight course into the unknown and would learn many lessons the hard way. One of the first problems in Zoo medicine is detecting when an animal is sick. Most wild animals survive by hiding their ailments until they are so advanced that medical intervention may come to late. In the wild this strategy may aid them from detection by a potential predator. We eventually learned to depend greatly on talented as well as dedicated zoo keepers who worked with their charges on a daily basis. Zoo keepers are often not given the credit that they deserve. Veterinarians who do not develop a working relationship with the people who sometimes become emotionally involved with their charges often have difficulty being successful. Zookeepers that are acutely observant may detect subtle changes in an animals behavior, feeding habits and stool characteristics. Subtle changes may be a sign of a potential health problem. The examination of wild animals in captivity comes with much stress and further hazard to the animals health and well being. Because of the hazard involving physical or chemical restraint we went by the axiom that "the therapeutic hazard should not exceed the disease hazard". Many smaller animals can be netted and physically restrained but the larger more dangerous animals must be anesthetized. The drug used to anesthetize the animal was delivered either by an extended pole with syringe on the end, by blow pipe or dart gun. One of my first responsibilities was to learn the various techniques of delivering the drug and become proficient in their use. I also learned to be prepared for any event by being organized and equipped with all the necessary tools. In the ensuing years I would learn that one cannot always be prepared for everything in Zoo medicine.
Every trip to the zoo was a unique adventure because we usually had no idea what to expect. There were many times that Murray Fowler was called upon to make tough decisions knowing full well that a mistake would be looked upon very negatively by the Zoo keepers, the public and the director of the zoo. We were not always perfect or completely successful but Murray Fowler soon earned the trust and respect of those people who cared most about the animals in their charge.
I recall one incident when we had planned ahead to dart a Chimpanzee who had a bad habit of throwing his feces at people and quite accurately I should add. I prepared myself knowing that I would be the one asked to go in and dart the rascal. Sure enough when we arrived at the zoo with a few veterinary students Murray turned to me and said "Terry will now go in and dart the Chimp". My thoughts went back to the many Marlin Perkins episodes on "Wild Kingdom" in which Perkins would announce things like "now my assistant Jim Fowler will wrestle the Anaconda".
I pulled out a large black plastic garbage bag that I had measured the night before and cut holes for my eyes and one hole for my right arm. When I donned my protective armour the look on the face of Dr. Fowler and his students was priceless.
After darting the chimp who demonstrated his accuracy well judging from the amount of fecal matter on the protective plastic I came out of the enclosure greeted with applause from the students. This I thought was not something I cherished enough to do everyday. Fortunately this episode didn't happen that often but there would be other adventures and they must be told. Keep tuned in for further adventures in Zoo Medicine.


troutbirder said...

Found this blog very interesting and thoughtful. Zoo medicine was fascinating. Marlin Perkins comments made me chuckle and comments about Obama are right on...

Camera Trap Codger said...

That's a good one, Terry.

A keeper at the National Zoo got a mouthful trying to net a rhesus macaque. That was way-back-when. He stumbled out of the cage gagging and retching. The monkey postponed the inevitable, but the next time the keepers went in to net it, they kept their mouths closed.

Owlman said...

I appreciate your comments Troutbirder and Codger. I would not have wanted a "mouthful" and in such situations a clear plastic mask might be appropriate.

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