Aspirin, antacid, glucosamine, antihistamine, Epsom salt, iodine — the list for your next visit to the drugstore? Possibly, but it's also a list of just a few items that may be used to care for animals at the zoo.
Some may find it surprising that veterinarians often use the same medications that human doctors prescribe. It really shouldn't be all that amazing though, because the patients face many of the same ailments whether human, tiger, gecko or eagle.
Arthritis, high blood pressure, gas, bloat, cancer, salmonella, E. coli, tuberculosis, colic, torn ligaments, broken bones, congestive heart failure — all these and more can be found in furry, feathered or scaled patients, as well as people.
One challenge the veterinarian and the rest of the zoo staff face is that the animals can't or won't always tell you where it hurts. It doesn't benefit an animal in the wild to make it evident that they are injured or sick because injured or sick animals often become prey to predators.
Noticing the subtle changes it takes trained observation. One of the first things new keepers are instructed to do is to learn the normal behavior of the animals they care for.
That way, when something abnormal occurs, even something little, they'll know it. The abnormal behavior often signifies health or social issues.
Deductive reasoning applied to the observed changes of animal behaviors often leads to diagnosis and treatment. X-rays, as well as various tests on blood samples and urine or fecal samples, often are necessary to identify problems.
Some ailments tend to run in certain species while other issues are more common with old age.
As animal care improves, animals live longer and the zoo veterinarian and staff are faced with collections full of geriatric animals, many of them with health issues.
Lee Richardson Zoo has two male Amur (or Siberian) tigers. Boris arrived at the zoo in November 2005 and Charlie in February 2006. In two weeks Boris will turn 20 years old. Charlie is a few years "less old" at 16. Of the 130 tigers listed in this year's AZA Amur Tiger Species Survival Plan, Boris is the oldest (and the only 20-year-old listed). Believe it or not, until recently Charlie (the younger of the two) was actually getting more attention from the vet staff for health issues due to hip problems, but recently Boris's age seems to have caught up with him.
A study conducted in 2007 based on data from North American institutions holding Amur tigers estimated the median life expectancy at a little over 14 years while the maximum longevity was just more than 21 years. Boris is definitely an elder statesman of the zoo.
Wildlife Conservation Society Russia reports the oldest Amur tiger in captivity living to 35 years of age. Keep in mind the oldest human is documented to have lived to be 122, but I don't think many of us will be fighting for that record.
Age is a relative thing though as different species have different life expectancies. Boris at 20 is considered old for an Amur tiger. We have a female Chilean flamingo that is 36 years old. While she, too, has already exceeded the median life expectancy of her species (14 years), she has a ways to go to reach the maximum of 51 years.
Our male bearded barbet at 11 years of age is the oldest bird of that species listed in the AZA's population management plan. The oldest bearded barbet on record lived to 18 years. Lee Richardson Zoo has a Reeves' muntjac that is 19 years old. Most sources say that individuals of this species will live for 16 to 18 years although a couple can be found that report 19 to 20.
Other representatives of the older generation of their species would include our male giraffe at 23 and both of our red pandas at 18 and 17 years of age.
As mentioned before, as animal care (medical, nutritional, etc.) improves, the animals live longer, just like humans.
At Lee Richardson Zoo our commitment is to give the animals of the zoo the best life possible for as long as they live, from the newly hatched bali mynah to the aged muntjac and everything in between. The zoo is a place for the young and the old alike, whether it's the animals that live there or the people who visit.
Visit our award-winning Web site at www.garden-city.org/zoo.