Vet Ethics: Discussing the ethics of zoos – with a CEO

Jennifer Gray is the CEO of Zoos Victoria. That means she is in charge of three acclaimed zoos: Werribee Zoo, Melbourne Zoo, and Healesville Sanctuary. Before coming to Australia, she worked in her home country of South Africa in a variety of roles. In addition, Ms Gray has mentored women in leadership roles.

After hearing her speak with great passion about the terrible loss of animal species in Australia and around the world, I decided to interview Ms Gray on the ethics of keeping animals in zoos. Her moral stance on zoos occurs against the background of both an ethical concern for animals and their suffering (she has stopped eating meat), and a fervent wish to save species from extinction. I thought it might be interesting to ask her about how these two concerns interact.     Continue reading Vet Ethics: Discussing the ethics of zoos – with a CEO

Pigeon Post: Ian Neville writes from the UK

The trend toward corporate veterinary practice ownership has been accelerating noticeably in recent years. Ten years ago it was estimated that around only 3 per cent of UK practices were owned by corporate companies, by last year that had risen to 10 per cent. In April this year a takeover merged two of the largest veterinary joint venture partnership (JVP) groups under a single management team.

Pets At Home is a nationwide retail chain of 345 stores selling pet foods and products, accessories, insurance and small pets employing 6,250 staff. Eighty six of the stores have grooming parlours and 116 house branches of Companion Care veterinary surgeries employing a further 1,200 people. The subject of the takeover, Vets 4 Pets, is another substantial JVP company with 93 practices spread across the UK. Both groups were formed in 2001, but their merger creates a single and formidable buying, discounting, advertising, training and management capability that independent, established practitioners and new start-up hopefuls will probably find very difficult to compete with. It also significantly reduces competition between veterinary JVP groups, with possible adverse impacts on job opportunities and conditions. Combined sales for both groups in the year to March 2013 amounted to £100 million (A$ 158 million). Pets At Home plan to retain both veterinary group ‘brand’ identities but continue to expand their operations and open more new franchised clinics.  Continue reading Pigeon Post: Ian Neville writes from the UK

Slam dunk for otter health!

Sea Otter HoopsTraining animals in zoos is not just about enrichment – although that is certainly a worthy aim. Increasingly, trainers are working with veterinarians to condition animals for medical examinations and even therapy.

The benefits are obvious – being able to undergo diagnostic tests and treatments without the need for sedation and general anaesthesia minimises the potential for iatrogenic harm and builds a bond between the patient and veterinary team. But staff at Oregon Zoo in the United States discovered another benefit when their efforts to assist an aging otter went viral in a public relations coup.

The patient, a 15 year old male neutered southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis), was admitted for a routine veterinary examination last year. Eddie has lived at the zoo since he was abandoned off the California coast as a pup. According to zoo experts, he would not have survived otherwise. Continue reading Slam dunk for otter health!

Female recovers, but fatal white rhino disease remains a mystery

A female rhinoceros exhibiting symptoms of a condition which claimed the lives of four of her conspecifics appears to have overcome her illness, despite exhaustive testing failing to identify the aetiological agent.

The mystery illness claimed the lives of four adult White Rhinoceros at Taronga Western Plains Zoo within a period of weeks in March, sparking an international investigation. Affected rhinos exhibited a range of signs, particularly neurological signs including stumbling and ataxia prior to their deaths.

The female also exhibited these signs, but survived the illness along with two other males which remain unaffected. Last month the zoo reported that the female White Rhino had improved and was assessed to have a good prognosis following intensive monitoring and supportive care after exhibiting neurological signs. All other affected animals had died despite intervention. The two remaining males, neither of whom have exhibited symptoms, remain healthy. No other animals at the zoo – including the black rhinoceros – have experienced the illness.

The intensive, eight-week-long investigation, lead by the Zoo, involved collaboration with Rhinoceros specialists in Africa and North America, Government virologists and veterinary services as well as multiple pathology laboratories.

A Working Group, consisting of the State’s most experienced veterinarians and pathologists including the Department of Primary Industries Chief Veterinary Officer was established to assist with the investigation. Continue reading Female recovers, but fatal white rhino disease remains a mystery

Source sought for Taronga’s TB

Pak Boon and Tukta in 2010 (Picture: Bobby-Jo Vial)An expert panel led by NSW Health is continuing work to determine the source of a tuberculosis (TB) outbreak at Taronga Zoo.

In February media reported the TB diagnosis of Pak Boon, one of Taronga’s elephants.

In September Taronga issued a statement on its website which said a male chimp with the disease had been euthanased.

There have been no public health warnings about the presence of the disease at Taronga, drawing criticism from NSW Greens MP John Kaye, who said potential visitors to Taronga were denied the right to evaluate the risk of infection.

“The elephants and the chimps are in enclosures that are 50 metres apart, and there are two public walkways in between,” Kaye said.

“It is possible there is a risk to humans; not a great risk, but I think NSW Health and the zoo are making it impossible for clients to make their own assessments.”

Kaye has called on Health Minister Jillian Skinner to force the zoo to warn visitors of the presence of TB in two species, and therefore the possibility that the infection spread from one to the other.

He added that he is particularly concerned about school groups.

“Teachers and principals have to sign off on the well-being of children without being given full information, so I will continue to put pressure on NSW Health,” Kaye said.

“Australia has an excellent track record for infection control regarding TB, and it would be a terrible thing to compromise that record to support the profitability of the zoo.”

Taronga Media Relations Manager, Mark Williams, denied that profits have been put before public health. Continue reading Source sought for Taronga’s TB