Caring for animals, whether as a pet owner, breeder or zookeeper, would be easier if we had a bit of Dr. Doolittle to help us communicate better with them, especially when they are not feeling good. It’s a bit like caring for your children before they’ve learned to speak or understand what you’re asking of them. Staff look for nonverbal cues or abnormal behavior to identify potential problems. But when it comes to caring for animals in a zoo environment, there are so many things that can affect an animal’s health that staff constantly monitor the animals, their habitats and their relationships to try to minimize problems. health.
Injuries can be caused by a fellow exhibitor, something dug up in an enclosure, or simply something that has worn away and exposed a potential hazard. There could be nutrition-related issues, whether it’s something that’s part of their daily diet, or unintentionally by a guest, or even something that might blow into their space. In their environment, animals face soil parasites, blood-borne diseases spread by mosquitoes, and even air-borne diseases, just like us humans. And animals, just like us humans, as they age, become more susceptible to all of this, and all of the other fun things that come with reaching those golden years.
There are animals like Clover, our female Amur Leopard, who mysteriously lost the use of her hind legs in the late afternoon about a month ago. We were able to get her in, draw blood and take x-rays. Since that evening, she has been receiving care and staying indoors. She is walking much better and once we are satisfied that she is completely healed, plan to let her return to her old enclosure.
Then there is Mashama, our male giraffe. On your next visit, you might find him in the smaller waiting area adjacent to the exhibit or in the exhibit itself with the girls. He has suffered from unmanageable leg problems for years. We recently started using the Hold Pen to see how the softer substrate impacted his attitude. He now has a choice of where he prefers to be and will often choose the holding pen over the main enclosure, but that is his choice.
And finally, there is Tyrion, the male warthog. Out of the blue, he showed up with a huge cut on his rump. Staff scoured the entire compound trying to see what they could have cut to no avail. Anyway, he too is currently being sidelined as the staff waits for the injury to heal properly, but he is doing great and being spoiled by his keepers while he is inside.
Again, if there were ways to talk to them and get answers, life would be so much easier for both of us. But until we find our Dr. Doolittle who can ask these questions for us, we are determined to continue to do our best with the non-verbal information they can provide.