Clinical Zoo: Anaesthetising an ape

General anaesthesia is undertaken every day in veterinary practice, so much so that anaesthetising dogs, cats and horses is reasonably routine. But anaesthesia of captive wildlife – even for experienced keepers – takes extensive planning, and requires a team approach to ensure the wellbeing of the patient and the safety of veterinarians, nurses and keepers.

Frala, a female western lowland gorilla, recently underwent an anaesthetic as part of a routine health check at Taronga Zoo. The experienced mother has given birth to six gorillas, including sons Fuzu and Fataki, to the Zoo’s previous silverback, Kibabu. Continue reading Clinical Zoo: Anaesthetising an ape

Aiding endangered offspring

Kakapo Auckland ZooOne thing zoos are very good at is neonatal care – a critical function when it comes to species conservation. The degree of intervention depends on the species and situation. In some cases, newborns need 24-hour care to ensure their survival. Others simply need a predator-free haven to survive.

Kakapo chick Heather One would never have made it without intensive intervention by a team of dedicated vets and nurses at Auckland Zoo.

The kakapo, one of the rarest and heaviest parrots in the world, is endemic to New Zealand. These flightless, nocturnal birds breed only every three to four years, with breeding depending on fruiting of rimu and other native New Zealand berry-producing trees.

With less than 130 in the world, kakapo are listed as critically endangered. The biggest threat appears to be predation by rats. Of 21 chicks born between 1981 and 1994, nine were likely killed by rats, although it is difficult to rule out the possibility that some of these may have died and subsequently been eaten by rats.

In 1990, a Kakapo recovery program – a partnership between the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC), New Zeland Aluminum Smelters and Forest and Bird – was established to ensure the survival of the species. Kakapo were transferred to several islands including Little Barrier Island (Hauturu o Toi), Codfish Island and Anchor Island, in a number of successful translocations. Continue reading Aiding endangered offspring

Clinical Zoo: Good health for a great ape

Taronga Vet Frances checks the teeth of Jantan the orangutan

PIcture Taronga Western Plains Zoo

Cardiovascular disease can manifest in progressive heart failure or sudden cardiac death in humans and other animals. But diagnosing early heart disease is challenging when little is known about normal cardiovascular function in a particular species.

That is why Taronga Zoo enlisted the expertise of veterinary cardiologist Niek Beijerink during a recent health check of its resident Sumatran Orang-utans. Aside from attending to routine health care and husbandry needs, annual health exams in zoos are an excellent opportunity to collect baseline data, which becomes important in diagnosing and monitoring treatment of disease.

The Zoo is home to two adult Orang-utans, Willow, a 58kg female, and Jantan, a 96.8kg male. The inseparable pair have enjoyed excellent health, thanks to the Zoo’s proactive approach to their well-being.

Orang-utans are vulnerable to many of the same diseases that affect humans – gastrointestinal upsets, flu signs and runny noses.

They could potentially contract human flu,” senior veterinarian Larry Vogelnest said. “Some zoos vaccinate all great apes against influenza. We have strict protocols here: any staff member with cold of flu signs or other illnesses must not enter areas where great apes are kept.”

In Orang-utan rehabilitation facilities overseas, common health problems include gastrointestinal parasites and gastrointestinal disease outbreaks due to agents including salmonella or shigella. Many such outbreaks are due to contaminated or spoiled food and can be prevented through excellent husbandry and hygiene.

Male Orang-utans sport a particularly large laryngeal sac that is inflated to create a loud roaring noise, known as a long call. The long call signals other males to stay away, whilst attracting females for courtship. The down side of having this large laryngeal sac is that it is a common site for infections.

We’ve seen it previously and it can be quite a difficult disease to treat,” Vogelnest said. Continue reading Clinical Zoo: Good health for a great ape

Rectal prolapse and foreign body in a magnificent tree frog

Magnificent frogAmphibians are uncommon veterinary patients, partly thanks to restrictions on keeping them in certain areas, but also due to an overall decline in frog numbers worldwide.

Even so, Stephen Cutter, at the Ark Animal Hospital in Palmerston, treats a handful of frogs every year.

“Frogs are still common in NT as chytrid fungus doesn’t seem to have hit,” he said. “The fungus also prefers cooler temperatures which is why it hit worse in alpine areas of the tropics as well as more temperate regions.”

The most common frog species he sees is the green tree frog (Litoria caerulea).

“This frog has an almost commensal lifestyle with people – many have resident green tree frogs on their veranda or living in the outdoor toilet and are quite fond of them, treating them as pets. I think this is why they tend to bring them in when they are injured”.

Like their dog and cat counterparts, frogs present for a range of reasons – typically trauma, but also infectious disease, parasite infestations and gastrointestinal disease. They are also sensitive to metabolic bone disease, as reptiles are.

Cutter made world headlines when he performed reconstructive surgery on a female tree frog whose dorsal skin had been removed by a lawnmower. The frog, Victa, survived and was eventually released back into the wild.

So it was not at all unusual for Cutter to be presented with a pet frog that had suffered a rectal prolapse. Continue reading Rectal prolapse and foreign body in a magnificent tree frog

Birdie braces

Macaw beak 016For some, the word orthodontist stirs awkward teenage memories of braces and the agonising wait to be rid of mouth metal. But humans aren’t the only species requiring some orthodontic alignment.

University of Queensland Small Animal Hospital Head of Avian and Exotic Pet Service, avian specialist and exotics luminary Bob Doneley is occasionally called upon to fit what he calls “birdie braces” for beaks that have gone awry.

Wry beak, or scissor beak, as it is known among bird circles, is a condition predominantly of juvenile birds, where the maxillary beak begins to deviate laterally – usually (for unknown reasons) to the right.

As a consequence, mandibular keratin tends to proliferate, unchecked by natural wear that would occur in the case of perfect beak alignment, and pushes upwards. This places additional pressure on the maxillary beak, worsening the defect.

“It is probably more common in macaws than other species but any bird can get it,” Doneley said. This includes ostriches which, due to their sheer size, can present with spectacular cases of wry beak. (Doneley’s ostrich practice once extended from Kingaroy to Tenterfield, and from the Gold Coast to St George – so he’s seen a few ostriches in his time). Doneley has also seen the condition in eclectus parrots. Continue reading Birdie braces