Preparing for Winter: Reptiles & Amphibians

The Greensboro Science Center is home to a number of reptiles and amphibians, including four awesome Aldabra tortoises! Although they live at the GSC all year long, during your winter visit, you won’t see these guys out and about in our zoo.

As cold-blooded animals, Aldabra tortoises need warm weather to stay healthy. When temperatures dip below about 60 degrees, they remain inside their blockhouses where the temperature is maintained at a toasty 80 degrees and where they have access to heat lamps and UV lamps.

You probably notice in your very own backyard that you don’t see turtles, snakes, frogs, and the like during winter. Many of these animals hibernate during the colder months. If you see one around as the temperatures begin to cool, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. If the animal is in an unsafe location, you can move it to a brushy area where it can burrow and hide. To help local reptiles and amphibians, you can create brush piles in your yard where they can stay warm and safe through winter!

Eury’s Story: Caring for an Aging Anteater

Since 2008, Eury has been one of the most charismatic crowd-pleasers in our zoo. 

If you’ve participated in a Zoo Trek, you may have experienced the shock of his 2-foot-long tongue snaking inside your sneaker. 

If you’ve accidentally dropped a little one’s shoe into his exhibit, you may have seen firsthand the catastrophic consequences of his inquisitive nature. 

And, if you’ve listened to a Keeper Talk featuring our beloved anteater, you may have heard him fondly referred to as a grumpy old man. Temperament aside, at 19 years of age, Eury is, in fact, considered “old.” 

In the wild, giant anteaters have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, while in captivity, they have been known to reach 20 years of age. As with all of our geriatric animals, our animal care staff has been working hard to help ease the side effects of Eury’s advancing age. 

Eury arrived at the GSC with an old hip injury. To compensate for the damage, Eury had naturally been bearing more weight on the uninjured side, which led to chronic arthritis in that knee. 

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An x-ray of Eury’s old hip injury. The left side of the image shows the damage.

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An x-ray of Eury’s damaged knee. The right side of the image shows the affected area.

To manage his pain, our team has been making adjustments to Eury’s habitat as well as administering medication as necessary. 

Inside the blockhouse (the indoor part of his exhibit), keepers are ensuring the kiddie pool he uses as a bed is full of a thick, comfy layer of pine shavings. Additional mulch is regularly added to the area  to create a soft surface for him to walk on. In the outdoor exhibit space, the yard is being tiered to create a more gentle slope, which will be easier for his old bones to navigate.

When it comes to medication, Eury receives a daily glucosamine/chondroitin supplement, a daily dose of meloxicam and two daily doses of both tramadol and gabapentin. In addition, he receives a glycosaminoglycan injection every two weeks. New to his care routine are daily cannabis oil treats.

Eury has also recently started acupuncture and cold laser therapy sessions, which he is handling very well. Dr. Tara Harrison, from North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, visited the GSC in early June to assist with his first session. In addition to demonstrating the proper technique to our teams, she also brought along a group of her students to observe and participate. To keep Eury occupied while acupuncture was in progress, our animal care staff provided him with some of his favorite snacks. Eventually, those snacks ran out. While those assembled would likely give him the shirts off their backs, they opted for another of his best-loved enrichment items instead – the shoes off their feet (Eury is quite fond of investigating stinky shoes).

Eury-Acupuncture

For the last 3 years, Eury has been regularly evaluated by animal care staff using our quality of life assessment. During these assessments, Eury’s primary keeper and our veterinarian discuss Eury’s health, well-being, and current and potential treatments. For his most recent assessment, it was noted that, although Eury has chronic and severe arthritis, he is still maintaining himself (grooming, eating, drinking, keeping weight on, etc.) and he is responding well to the acupuncture and cold laser therapy sessions. 

Eury is a geriatric anteater and is experiencing some of the issues that come with advanced age, but he is still doing well and his keeper and vet will continue to monitor his quality of life and provide him with supportive care.

 

Katrina the Crocodile’s Pre-Ship Exam

Last week, Katrina, our female Nile crocodile, was examined by the GSC’s veterinary team in preparation for her upcoming move to a fellow Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facility, Zoo Boise. Katrina came to the Greensboro Science Center in 2009 from Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. She has shared the exhibit with Niles, our male crocodile, since then.

With the capacity to grow up to 16 feet in length, the time has now come for our crocodiles to go their separate ways, giving them the space they need as they continue to grow. Katrina will likely be making her move to Idaho in May. At that time, two keepers from Zoo Boise will come to North Carolina to accompany her on her FedEx flight out of Piedmont Triad International Airport.

When animals are moved from one facility to another, it is standard procedure for the receiving facility to acquire up-to-date medical information. In order to provide the most accurate information possible, our veterinary team gave Katrina a full physical exam. So, how does one go about giving a crocodile a physical?

Our team of animal care professionals met prior to beginning the exam to discuss the method they would employ to restrain Katrina as well as to determine the role of each individual involved. Additionally, the pool inside the exhibit was drained, and all tools and supplies were gathered and placed within easy reach.

The temperature at the time of the exam was relatively cool for a cold-blooded animal, at 63 degrees. While the cooler weather could mean Katrina had a little less energy than usual and wouldn’t pull quite as much, our team never takes any chances when it comes to safety. With such a strong, alert animal, every precaution was taken.

Inside the blockhouse, a team was responsible for catching Katrina by fastening a rope around her head and one arm. Once secure, the team pulled her outside into the grass (where there is less of a chance of injury if the animal rolls). A rope was carefully slipped around Katrina’s jaws and tightened to cinch her mouth shut.

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The animal care team moves with precision to stabilize Katrina’s powerful jaws.

A warm, wet towel was placed over her eyes before two members of the animal care team simultaneously moved in to hold her still. Her mouth was then taped shut.

During the exam, our veterinary team drew blood, checked her eyes and tested the movement of her joints. They inserted a microchip, took a fecal sample and updated x-rays. They also used the opportunity to take measurements (she’s now 7’ 2” in length!!!) — not only for her medical records, but also for logistical planning purposes as she prepares to fly to Idaho.

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The team prepares to insert a microchip.

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From the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail, Katrina measures 7’ 2”.

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Our portable x-ray generator allows the team to take – and quickly review – x-rays on exhibit, which is less stressful for the animal and less dangerous for the keepers.

Other than a small abrasion on her foot, our vet team tells us Katrina is in great shape! We will certainly miss her here at the Greensboro Science Center, but we are excited for her future at Zoo Boise where she’s sure to continue educating and inspiring guests with her strength, power and beauty.

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