From the Vet Desk: Penguin Procedure

Zookeepers’ and aquarists’ jobs go far beyond feeding and cleaning up after animals. Our amazing team of professionals know their charges intimately and keep a very close eye on each and every one of the animals they care for. By familiarizing themselves with each animal’s tendencies and behaviors, our team is more likely to notice when something is wrong before it becomes a serious issue. Such was the case recently with Tux, one of our female African penguins.

Several weeks ago, keepers noticed that Tux wasn’t eating regularly. At the time, she was fostering chicks, so our team thought that a possible explanation. However, as the abnormal behavior continued, they began to grow concerned.

Our birds have been trained to take food directly from our keepers’ hands, but Tux is one of the few birds in the colony that will pick up a dropped fish and eat it. Because of her ability to do so, keepers suspected she may have picked up and ingested a foreign body by mistake. They discussed their concerns with our veterinary team, who then performed an examination to attempt to identify the problem. However, the bloodwork and radiograph results from the exam yielded no conclusive results.

As a precautionary measure, our animal care team decided further examination was in order. Enter Dr. Dan Johnson from Avian and Exotic Animal Care and Dr. Rik Wyatt from Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care, both located in Raleigh. These experts came out with a specialized scope to examine the path from Tux’s esophagus all the way to her stomach to ensure no blockage was present.

Check out these photos of the procedure:

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A scope inserted in Tux’s throat allows the animal care team to see the entire path from mouth to stomach.

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The scope shows clear pathways.

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Tux’s heart rate is monitored throughout the procedure.

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Tux’s primary keeper, Shannon, is on hand as the bird comes out of anesthesia.

We are pleased to report that Tux is doing well after her exam, and her eating habits are back to normal. We’re grateful to our animal care team for moving so quickly to address a potential health concern, as well as to Dr. Dan and his team for providing a scope and extra assistance during this procedure!

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Screaming Hairy Armadillos – Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air! Whether it’s love for your partner or a friend, or it’s love for your own wonderful self, you probably won’t be able to escape thinking about it for at least a few minutes (…sorry!). In the spirit of love, we wanted to use today’s blog to hone in on the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), with a spotlight on our screaming hairy armadillos, Lenny and Rizzo.

In captivity, the screaming hairy armadillo population is dwindling. There’s a whole host of reasons for this, but the main ones are that there aren’t enough successful breeding pairs out there, coupled with low reproductive rates. Per the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), we’re crossing our fingers that Cupid’s arrow will fly and find its mark with our armadillos. Lenny, who you can find on exhibit in our Discovery House, and Rizzo, our back-of-house armadillo, are a part of a very detailed strategy for successful captive breeding.

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During Rizzo’s ovulation cycle, which occurs during only two seasons of the year, the armadillos are given up to two months together in hopes that the spark of love will ignite. Lenny will even spend his evenings in the back-of-house so that he and Rizzo can have more time together. Since gestation takes from 60-80 days, and if conception were to occur early on in her mating period with Lenny, Rizzo could give birth while still in the company of her mate. This leads to a high level of stress for the potential mother and could lead to her eating her offspring. To avoid these things, a pregnant Rizzo would have to be moved entirely out of Discovery House and taken to a low-stimulation environment in which she wouldn’t even be able to so much as smell her mate, Lenny.

When and if babies are successfully produced, litter size is small – consistently yielding twins. The two are initially quite fragile, as babies are. So along with the obstacles leading up to a successful pregnancy, keeping the babies healthy and sustained can be a trial in itself.

The odds could seem insurmountable, but our keepers are doing everything they can to ensure the possibility of a successful breeding with our screaming hairy armadillos. With the help of AZA and our partners in other accredited zoos, we are learning how best to guide this species to a better future.

Senior Living Community for Lemurs

The Greensboro Science Center is home to a lemur exhibit made up of three lemur species: ring-tailed lemurs, red ruffed lemurs and a mongoose lemur. Both our red ruffed lemurs and mongoose lemur are considered geriatric at this point, so special attention is given to this group to ensure they remain happy and comfortable. Part of this special attention entails efforts to ensure they remain socialized as they continue to age.

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Ara and Jethys on exhibit

At 32 years old, Ara is one of the oldest known female red ruffed lemurs in North America. With lemurs having an average lifespan ranging in the 20s, Ara is very special. Such an impressive status as hers means extra love and care from her keepers, including close monitoring of the temperature in her living space as well as her eating habits. Last year, her caregivers noticed that Ara was exhibiting some health problems which led to her being taken off exhibit. Our keepers knew she could potentially become lonely without the social interaction offered by the others lemurs on exhibit, so they found a solution: Jethys.

Jethys, our second red ruffed lemur, came to us from the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. At 25 years old, she too, is a senior lemur and therefore seemed the perfect pal for Ara. Both ladies lost their original companions but are now strongly bonded together. Since Ara has been off exhibit, she has been constantly accompanied by her BFF Jethys, who has become quite protective of her elderly friend.

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Mongoose lemur, Che

Keepers are now attempting to add a third member to this seniors club, a 26-year-old mongoose lemur named Che (pronounced Sh-ay). In the past, Che spent all of his time with his daughter, Isabella. Due to a tumor that led to Isabella’s euthanization several months ago, Che is now flying solo. Our ring-tailed lemur group didn’t take to him very well, but we’re feeling hopeful that Ara and Jethys can make up for that.

Currently, keepers are helping the lemurs get to know each other via a “howdy” – a process in which the animals are placed in adjacent spaces where they can see, smell and perhaps even touch each other while still separated by a barrier. Although the protective Jethys hasn’t quite embraced this newcomer, we’re feeling optimistic that as the trio continue to become acquainted, we’ll soon see them peacefully occupying neighboring spaces. Much like humans, social interaction is important for all lemurs, providing the mental stimulation they need to stay healthy and happy. Our dedicated team of animal care experts are doing everything in their power to make our lemurs’ golden years great ones.

Life as a Senior Big Cat

More than 10 years ago, the Conservators Center, a North Carolina educational non-profit dedicated to providing a specialized home for select carnivore species, had accepted the placement of 14 lions and tigers that were part of a large confiscation of animals living in unacceptable conditions. Four of the female large cats were pregnant and delivered cubs shortly after their arrival at the Conservators Center. Since the Greensboro Science Center had a new tiger exhibit with no tigers, we and the Conservators Center formed a partnership to provide a home for two of the tiger cubs – siblings Axl and Kisa.

With Kisa’s passing in 2016, Axl now occupies the exhibit alone. While this may sound like a lonely situation for Axl, tigers are typically solitary animals, and ever since his solo stint began, we’ve watched him become more active and exhibit more natural tiger behaviors than before. With Kisa having been the playful troublemaker, Axl has now had the chance to let his unique personality shine.

Captive tigers have an average life expectancy of 16-20 years, with their wild counterparts averaging 10-15 years. Our 13-year-old Axl is considered a geriatric animal, and as with all of our animals experiencing the various stages of life, our animal staff are constantly altering and reevaluating the care he receives.

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Keeper Rachael feeding Axl his morning meal

They’ve noticed that he’s become a little more resistant to eating, so to compensate, his diet has been changed over to a special higher calorie senior diet. His keepers have also been feeding him more whole prey. Some of his favorites include rabbits, beef and deer. In addition, he’s recently been receiving half of his diet in the morning and half in the afternoon, making it more likely that he’ll eat what is offered to him. He’s lost a little of his weight, but this is no cause for concern as it remains on par for tigers his age. Our team weighs him every two weeks to make sure his caloric needs continue being met.

Beyond changes in his eating habits, Axl has exhibited the occasional asthma flare-up. In response, our animal care team is keeping a very close eye on his breathing and treating him as needed. He’s also just received a physical and will continue to undergo those on a regular basis, as always. Keepers have even trained him to present his tail so that our vet staff can easily draw blood to verify continued proper functioning of his organs.

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Axl presents his tail so vet staff can draw blood

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Axl enjoying being brushed!

Unfortunately for us, wild animals tend to hide symptoms of illness until it’s too late, but Axl’s team of caregivers continues to do everything in their power to prevent issues and respond to his needs as they become evident. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying his daily brushings and continues to entertain visitors while on exhibit. Keeper Rachael Campbell, Axl’s primary keeper, describes him as “more laidback than ever!”

You can stop by Animal Discovery Zoo and visit Axl every day between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Just steer clear of the tiger spray zones!