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aanor in exotic_vettech

more notes from the zoo

Wednesday I got to help with the wing clipping and vaccinating of the zoos twenty-two flamingoes and two spoonbills. What excellent practice with wing-clipping! Nice big color-coded wings and lots of them. Good avian IM injection practice too. The keepers would go into the night house and come out magically holding a flamingo each, and my first thought was: aren't you worried about the beak? I'm used to thinking long-legged shore bird equals fish spears for beaks. You wear eye protection if your'e going to work with herons or cranes. They instinctually go for the eyes! I heard of one case where I scientist got killed by a great blue heron that when straight through the eye into his brain. But these guys dont eat fish, and their beaks are not exactly deadly. If they get grumpy the most they can do is sort of pinch at you with a beak highly specialized to fliter algae and small shellfish from the shallows.

There were starlings stealing the food the keepers had put out for the flamingoes that morning. As we added more birds to the exhibit, the flamingoes started chasing off the theives. Someone said they saw one carry off a bright pink feather for nest-building. The string keeper said the last time a big storm blew a tree down, they found a woodpecker nest in it full of flamingo feathers. When we think of zoos, we picture a series of enclosures, animals neatly separated into controlled mini-environments, isolated from the big wide city that surrounds them. But in truth the local wildlife, the city pigeons, the feral cats, live and thrive and co-exist with the offical collection within the zoo grounds. Pigeons make nests in the camel's hay barn. Squirrels carry off bits of apple and carrot as we throw them to the warthogs. Wild ducks spend a few weeks in our concrete moats and ponds on thier way south. Walking up to my car that evening, I saw a group of ravens fly overhead and settle on the veldt exhibit as if they owned the place. Curled up on the rockwork next to the waterfall of the same exhibit I saw one of the resident feral cats, a black and white number looking quite plump and healthy. Keepers are, of course animal lovers. And so at our zoo, the animal management staff deals with feral cats in the only way that makes sense to them. They catch them in humane traps and the vet staff neuters and vaccinates them. The tame ones and the kittens get adopted out. The truely feral ones are re-released on the zoo grounds, and the keepers look after them.

After the flamingo round-up there's a very sick bobcat to deal with. One of those cases where she was doing just find and now all of the sudden she's going downhill fast and no one knows why. Its about lunch time by now, and they are about to anesthetize her for more testing, treatments, etc. Head tech suggests I take a quick lunch break and then come relieve one of the other techs. So half an hour later I walk into the treatment room, and immediately I can tell what happened. One of the vets is just walking out as I walk in, and everyone has tears in their eyes. The bobcat's dead. The keeper is just standing there looking down at the cat with one paw in her hand. Everyone comes over and gives her a little hug.

After that everyone took a lunch break, and then I spent the rest of the day assisting the vets with necropsy. Strange, stinky, but fascinating work. All that time spent trying to understand the unseen inner workings of an animal, and now here we are peeling back the skin, cutting through the layers, revealing all the body's secrets. I always learn something when I get to help with necropsy.


We use adopted greyhounds at school to learn on. (Not sticking them with needles or anything, but anatomy, behavior restraint, that such...)

We keep the dogs for about a year, and then adopt them out. One of our dogs came in about two months after he'd been adopted. One day the owner went out to the back yard and just found the dog dead.

I was able to squeeze in the room and watch one of our vets do a necropsy. I felt about the same way you do: stinky, but fascinating. I learned more about anatomy that day than I had my entire time at the school.

(We also found out that the dog had died from multiple blood tumors often associated with retired racing dogs.)


Greyhounds are great animals to learn on - so little fur and fat to get in the way of finding veins, muscles, etc. Necropsies are absolutely the best way to learn anatomy in my opinion. The only other necropsy I've seen at the zoo was on a huge boa constrictor. That was the best snake anatomy lesson for me, especially since he was so big - you could really see all the structures well.
Once, when handling a heron, the thing tried to strike at my eyes. Actually, it looked straight at me with it's mouth wide open, I think it screamed a war cry and then tried to strike me. I just caught it before it could get my face, (I was wearing eye gear too) but it was one of the freakiest things I ever saw. For some reason, an enraged heron like that reminds me of some weird muppet or something.

So no head restraint for flamingos? Huh. I would have been weirded out too.

And I love necropsies! Well... until the stomach/bowels are opened. UGH the stench carries all the way to the other end of the buildling!

Do you work there or volunteer? If you volunteer you're very lucky they let you do so much. That sounds like an awesome place to be.
Wow, that would freak me out, I think. I can totally see how an angry heron would look like some crazed muppet. A couple of the flamingoes were grumpy and did thier best to bite us, which was little more than enoying. In those cases, the head was restrained basically by making a circle with two fingers around its neck - fingertip to fingertip so you won't absent-mindedly start tightening your grip because those guys are fragile.

I've been a volunteer for a while there, and now I'm doing my internship there. It is completely awsome, and yes, the staff is really cool to let me do as much as I do. It has been an awesome experience.
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May 2010

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