Medicine & Surgery

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Animal patients can’t use words to describe how they are feeling or point to where it hurts. But doctors who know the animals and understand their species are able to recognize when something is wrong. To find out why a California sea lion isn’t eating or what is causing a snow leopard’s stuffy nose, for example, WCS veterinarians apply the latest techniques and technologies to quickly diagnose the problem. From baby wellness exams to geriatric care, our zoo and aquarium animals receive routine health check-ups throughout their lives. Our wildlife health specialists also conduct research to improve animal care in new and innovative ways. When necessary, they perform surgeries and treatments on many kinds of animals—perhaps a root canal for a tiger, an eye exam for a frog, even acupuncture for a camel.

Challenges

At a zoo or aquarium, one procedure does not fit all. Different animals require different approaches to their health. In addition, their safety and that of their caretakers must be considered. At every step of the treatment process, our health experts must consider how a species will respond, recover, and be reintroduced back into their respective social group or exhibit.

Goals

  • Provide the highest quality medical and surgical care to the animals in all five of WCS's Living Institutions
  • Support WCS and other field-based global research, health, and conservation projects
  • Conduct research and clinical studies for the benefit of the collections and field conservation
  • Disseminate information to wildlife veterinarians, managers, and biologists via publications
  • Participate in scientific presentations, programs, and symposia

What WCS is Doing

Customizing a routine treatment for a certain species or treating an individual animal’s health problem can occasionally launch new studies or areas of research. At any given time, WCS health experts are involved in many of these endeavors. For example, a Taylor’s cantil, a type of poisonous snake, needed consistent treatment with antibiotics. WCS veterinarians worried that constant handling to administer the doses would further stress the reptile—as well as put them and the keepers at risk of a venomous bite. So, they inserted under the snake’s skin a tiny osmotic pump to continuously administer the medication in a timely fashion.

Besides keeping our extensive animal collection as healthy as possible, WCS veterinarians consider the conservation implications of their work. When a female cotton-top tamarin--a critically endangered monkey from Colombia that weighs only about one pound--developed an unusual tumor in one of her ovaries, the potential healthcare consequences were worrisome. The staff was concerned not only for the monkey’s survival but also that she remain able to reproduce in order to maintain a hopeful future for her species. Our veterinarians successfully removed only the one affected ovary, and she made a complete recovery. It is hoped that she will one day reproduce.

From the Newsroom

Tiny Pump Helps Big Cats HealSeptember 2, 2009

WCS veterinarians based at the Bronx Zoo find a way to help leopards, tigers, and other tough patients recover faster after surgery.

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