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Preventive medicine for zoo animals (Proceedings)

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Apr 01, 2010

The purpose of this presentation is to review the essential elements of a preventive medicine program for captive wild animals. A sound preventive medicine program is the foundation of an animal health program because it is difficult to perform diagnostic tests or treat sick animals successfully; wild animals often mask signs of illness until late into the disease process; and disease outbreaks can have devastating population effects.

Diagnosis and treatment of captive wild animals usually require physical or chemical restraint (including general anesthesia)—procedures that are stressful to healthy animals and may exacerbate an illness or even result in the death of an ill animal. Some bacterial and parasite problems, once established in an exhibit or group of animals, are almost impossible to eradicate and may result in one or more of the following: 1. increased mortality in the animal collection; 2. poor reproductive performance; 3. poor display animals for the visiting public; 4. increased restrictions on shipping animals out of the collection; 5. health risks to surrounding domestic and wild animal populations; and 6. health risks to zoo personnel. The goals of a preventive medicine program, therefore, are: to prevent disease from entering the animal collection; to assure that the animals are properly maintained; and to avoid dissemination of disease to other institutions or to free-ranging populations. The elements of a preventive medicine program include:

  • Stock selection
  • Quarantine
  • Routine health monitoring
  • Nutrition
  • Enclosure design
  • Pest and parasite control
  • Husbandry and sanitation
  • Minimizing conditions that may result in trauma
  • Employee health program

However, before a preventive medicine program can be developed, it is essential that a veterinarian have appropriate training and knowledge in the following areas:

Knowledge in basic veterinary medicine

  • Knowledge in principles of medicine, anesthesia, surgery, pathology, diagnostic methods, and treatment procedures
  • Knowledge of the most common diseases in thousands of animal species

Knowledge of the various species

  • Knowledge of the biology of the different species helps to identify their need for husbandry and nutrition.
  • Knowledge about their natural habitat is necessary for the creation of a suitable enclosure to reduce stress and to prevent stereotypical behavior.
  • Knowledge about the natural behavior of zoo animals is important to be able to recognize abnormal behavior and development of diseases.
  • Knowledge of anatomy and physiology is also important to offer proper husbandry and nutrition, as well as an understanding of a species' susceptibility to certain diseases. It is also necessary for proper diagnostic evaluation and treatment of the patients.

Knowledge in nutritional physiology

  • Structure of the diet needed
  • Composition of the diet needed
  • Absorption and availability of nutrients

Knowledge in reproductive physiology

  • Knowledge about breeding cycles is important for the development of breeding programs
  • Knowledge about social grouping and proportion of the genders in a social group
  • Knowledge of artificial breeding methods
  • Knowledge of contraceptive methods

Knowledge in restraint methods

  • Proper restraint methods for the various species
  • Stress impact of the restraint method on the animal
  • Manual restraining methods
  • Methods of chemical immobilization

Knowledge of regulations and guidelines

  • USDA/APHIS regulations for zoos as a commercial animal care facility
  • State regulations for the importation, transportation, and care of wild and zoo animals
  • AZA guidelines regarding husbandry standards for zoo animals