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

Clinical Zoo: Tales from the tiger boudoir

Photo: Taronga Zoo

When three Sumatran tiger cubs were born at Taronga Zoo on a cold August morning last year, keepers and veterinarians breathed a sigh of relief.

Sumatran Tigers are critically endangered, with as few as 400 estimated to be living in the wild. Only seven per cent of their original habitat remains, with palm oil plantations the major threat to the forests they live in. On top of that, tiger body parts continue to be used in traditional medicines, and tiger pelts fetch high prices on the black market. In fact, so great is the demand for tiger pelts that in 2009 a female tiger was poisoned, killed and skinned while in an exhibit at Rimbo Zoo in Indonesia (a suspect has since been arrested).

For these reasons, Taronga’s three cubs represent a staggering one per cent of the existing Sumatran Tiger population. Over the years the Zoo has made a significant contribution to Sumatran Tiger conservation, with the breeding program yielding 30 tigers since 1979. But the lead up to this birth wasn’t straightforward.

Father Satu was imported from Stuttgart Germany at the age of 18 months as part of the international zoo breeding program for Sumatran Tigers. Too young to breed, he spent around 18 months acclimatising at Western Plains Zoo before arriving at Taronga Zoo in January 2008.

When he did arrive he was kept in his own enclosure, as tigers are generally solitary animals. However, he had auditory and olfactory contact with Jumilah and was allowed into her enclosure when she was in oestrus. Continue reading Clinical Zoo: Tales from the tiger boudoir