This spring our Wildlife/Aquatics/Zoo/Exotics club (WAZE, for short) was invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of Franklin Park Zoo. I had never been to this zoo before and had certainly never had the chance to talk with a zoo’s veterinary staff. It was interesting how familiar everything looked in the zoo’s hospital—banks of stainless steel cages, an exam table, an inhalant anesthetic machine. A few things were different, though. A gallon milk jug had been fashioned into an oxygen mask used for large mammals like lions, and a two-foot length of PVC pipe had been transformed into an oxygen mask fit for the long bills of herons at the zoo. As veterinary technicians showed us how for smaller animals, they used a variety of hand-made oxygen masks made from different sizes of plastic cups.
A locked chain-link gate contained the zoo’s arsenal of tranquilizing blowpipes and air rifles, used in the event of an escaped animal. The vet tech told us how twice a year, a lucky staff member dressed up in a gorilla suit or lion mask and pretended to be an escaped animal, so that the whole facility could practice containing the animal while keeping the public and staff safe and coordinating with local police agencies. She also explained how once a week each zoo department met to discuss a disaster or escaped animal scenario, and come up with a plan for how their department would respond. It sounded like a fun way to get everyone working together as a team and to practice thinking quickly.
I was impressed by the large amount of space designated for quarantine, since animals both entering and leaving the zoo have to spend several days in isolation to ensure that no symptoms of infectious disease manifested during that time. During our visit, a kookaburra was being readied to leave for a different zoo, and a red panda was sleeping on a fake tree limb. All in all, it was interesting to learn that veterinary medicine in a zoo setting wasn’t all that different from the small and large animal medicine we have been learning…just that with zoo animals, sometimes it takes a bit more creativity to make things work.