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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Milk Snake Enucleation

Earlier this week, our veterinary team removed the right eye of our milk snake, Milkshake, due to serious issues stemming from a blocked tear duct. Read more below to learn about Milkshake’s condition, the surgery that followed, and his recovery.

Warning: this blog post contains photos of surgical procedures and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Last month, keepers noticed that Milkshake’s right eye was swollen. Further examination revealed that the snake had a blocked tear duct. Because snakes’ eyelids are fused together, it couldn’t drain on its own, which means pressure was building up between the eyelid and the patient’s eye. This pressure could lead to extreme pain and discomfort and ultimately blindness in that eye. Following their discovery, our animal care staff did a weekly draining of the tear duct using a fine needle, each time removing about 0.1 mil of fluid; this went on for a month.

In an effort to relieve the snake’s discomfort more permanently and reduce the stress caused by weekly draining, our animal care team made the decision to remove the eye. Milkshake was placed under anesthesia during the procedure. He received both numbing and pain medications, as well as epinephrine post-surgery to constrict blood vessels and slow bleeding.

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Milk Snake EnucleationElectrical probes inserted into the animal measured the conductivity of the heart, allowing our veterinary team to monitor Milkshake’s cardiac activity throughout the surgery and recovery.

Milk Snake Eye Removal DSC_8159An operating microscope capable of showing details as small as red blood cells moving within the eye vessels was used during the procedure.

Milk Snake Eye Removal DSC_8186The eye was removed with extreme care.

Milk Snake Eye Removal DSC_8220After the eye was removed, a gel foam sponge was inserted into the socket, helping to clot the blood and fill in the space. This will stay in place for the next 1-2 weeks.

We are pleased to report that surgery went well, and Milkshake is expected to make a full recovery. If you visit the GSC in the near future, you may notice his exhibit is lined with newspaper instead of soil. During recovery, this will prevent any debris from entering the surgical site as it heals.

Goodbye, Nazca

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Nazca, our male maned wolf and the father of the four puppies recently born here at the GSC. Nazca was just shy of his 11th birthday and was considered a senior, as the lifespan of maned wolves in captivity is typically 10 – 14 years of age.

For the last few weeks, Nazca had exhibited a cough that caused our animal care team concern. Over the weekend, staff observed some swelling in his neck. In an attempt to identify the cause, he was brought to our on-site animal hospital where our veterinary team performed an exam. Crackles, wheezing, and wet sounds were observed when listening to his lungs. An ultrasound-guided aspiration biopsy revealed concerning cells. Fluid was found in his chest cavity.

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Due to his age, the advanced state of the illness, and his rapidly declining quality of life, the decision was made to humanely euthanize him. Although the results of a necropsy are pending, Veterinarian Dr. Sam Young says Nazca had an advanced lung cancer. His mate, Anaheim, was given the opportunity to say goodbye and her behavior will be closely monitored in the weeks ahead. Decisions like this are not taken lightly and are vetted through a committee of GSC experts trained in animal welfare. A number of factors are evaluated through our welfare process and include questions such as “how much pain do we believe the animal is in?”, “what is their likelihood of recovery?”, and “how progressive is the disease process? Can we even treat it?”

Nazca will be remembered by many of us at the GSC not just as a truly magnificent animal, but also as a fantastic father. During his time with us, he sired nine beautiful pups through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). He and his first mate, Lana, had three pups in February of 2011. He was then recommended to breed with Anaheim, who has been his mate since 2015. Together, they produced two successful litters, a boy and girl in March of 2016, and the four pups (two males and two females) born in December 2018.

Breeding recommendations are made based on the best genetic match-ups to ensure a healthy and sustainable population throughout AZA institutions. Nazca carried the most valuable genetics for both of his recommended pairings. His involvement in the SSP has assured that his genes would be passed on to future generations (as evident by last year’s successful birth from one of his daughters). Our staff is comforted greatly by the knowledge that his legacy will continue to live on even though he is no longer with us.

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The maned wolf exhibit has been closed since early December in preparation for the puppies’ birth. The exhibit is scheduled to reopen February 11, when the puppies are a little older. We are grateful for all of your thoughts and prayers as we mourn the loss of our beloved Nazca.

Where’s Angler?

Angler, the baby fishing cat born at the Greensboro Science Center in February, will be off exhibit for six to eight weeks as he recovers from a broken arm. Last week, keepers noticed the kitten limping, prompting two immediate actions: 1 – our veterinary team performed a physical exam in an attempt to identify the injury and 2 – our animal care team reviewed camera footage to see how the injury occurred.

Upon palpating the animal’s forearm, GSC veterinarian, Dr. Sam Young, found the broken bone and promptly scheduled a visit with the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Cary, NC.

The forearm is made up of two bones – the radius and the ulna. Radiographs showed the kitten has a broken radius, but the ulna is still intact, which Dr. Sam tells us is good news as it acts like a splint for the fractured bone.

The orthopedic surgeon at VSH inserted a k-wire to align the bones, then plated the fracture, as you can see in the image below.

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Upon reviewing camera footage, our animal care team saw Angler stick his paw under the barrier between his holding space and his father, Mako’s holding space. Although the cats have been separated since birth by this barrier, on this occasion, Mako grabbed Angler’s paw. It appears the kitten broke his arm when he quickly pulled away. Our animal care team has now added an additional barrier – metal sheeting that fills the gap under the wall – to prevent future incidents.

Angler’s arm is being kept bandaged and in a splint to prevent him from licking or chewing on the injury, which could cause additional harm. Our animal care team is changing his bandage daily as well as providing him with pain medications and antibiotics. In order for our team to change his bandage, Angler must be sedated, brought from his behind-the-scenes exhibit space to the hospital, where his bandage is changed, then brought back to his exhibit – and his mom, Tallulah. He is currently being trained to go into a crate to make the transport process easier and less stressful for him.

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As he continues to heal, keepers are ensuring all toys and furniture in his space are kept small or low to ground, so as not to encourage climbing. Keeper Rachael tells us Anger is eating well and taking all of his medications, which will aid in a speedy recovery. We’ll be sure to share any changes in Angler’s condition on our Facebook page, so stay tuned for updates!

 

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!

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!

Veterinary Care for Green Sea Turtles

The animal care team is happy to report that the four green sea turtles being rehabilitated at the Greensboro Science Center are settling in nicely to their temporary spaces. These turtles were among the hundreds rescued off the North Carolina coast, cold-stunned after a sudden drop in water temperature. The GSC, along with other aquarium facilities, are housing and rehabilitating the turtles until they can be released back to the Atlantic.

Rehabilitation of sea turtles is a multi-faceted effort. It involves proper veterinary care, diet, behavior monitoring and adequate, but not too much, human interaction. Cold-stunned symptoms are similar to those of hypothermia. Since turtles are reptiles, they cannot regulate their body temperature. When the ocean temperature dropped from their preferred 70 degrees to close to 50 degrees, the turtles were left in cold shock. Their heart rate dropped so their circulation slowed down, and they became lethargic and able only to float in the water. This reaction to cold causes their breathing to become irregular, and as a consequence, susceptible to pneumonia, and unable to maintain proper buoyancy in the water. The four turtles at the Center are being treated with a prophylactic antibiotic to prevent diseases onset by the cold. We are happy to report they have received their final dose of antibiotic, which they were receiving every 72 hours since they arrived at the GSC six days ago.

Sea Turtles Receiving Veterinary Care

The GSC vet has been monitoring the health of the sea turtles. The turtles were examined upon arrival to make sure their overall body condition was good. He looked over their flippers and carapace, or shell. By moving their flippers, our vet could assess the condition of their joints. He examined their eyes, mouths and tongues to make sure their mucus membranes were healthy.

Sea Turtle with BarnaclesHe also looked at their “barnacle load.” Barnacles, often seen on boat hulls and piers, are crustaceans, related to crabs or lobsters. They float in the water as juveniles, attach themselves to something, secrete a substance to create their hard calcite outer layer and spend the rest of their lives as sessile (immobile) filter feeders. Most are harmless to their host; however, the amount of barnacles on a turtle can be a sign of their health. Healthier turtles tend to have fewer barnacles.

The turtles have been steadily getting stronger and have responded well to the antibiotics. While that particular treatment is complete, they will continue to be monitored until they are released.