On February 26th Houston Zoo wildlife partners at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) brought in several wild sea turtles for medical care.
These sea turtles were looked over by the Houston Zoo’s vet team and will be rehabilitated at NOAA’s sea turtle barn in Galveston until they are ready to be released into the wild.
On March 23rd, an additional green sea turtle visited the Zoo’s vet clinic. This turtle had obvious boat wounds and will need plenty of care before it can return to the wild. As the turtle was receiving care, the Zoo’s vet staff noticed that not only did it have a boat wound, but the turtle also had parts of a fishing hook in the front left flipper. Dr. Joe at the Zoo’s clinic removed the hook and provided care to the carapace (shell) before the turtle returned to Galveston for rehabilitation by NOAA staff.
We are just beginning the sea turtle nesting season in Texas. If you happen to see sea turtle tracks, a nesting sea turtle, or an injured/sick/stranded turtle on the beach, please report it to 1-866-TURTLE-5. In addition, if you are fishing and accidentally catch a sea turtle, please also report it to this number!
This piece written by Dipail Pathak, Baylor College of Medicine
Baylor College of Medicine and the Houston Zoo previously have collaborated on researching the elephant herpes virus and are now partnering again to help another zoo resident, a 16-year-old Komodo dragon named Smaug.
Baylor faculty in the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program have been working closely with zoo veterinarians and keepers since November to develop an orthosis to help the 7-foot, 200 pound Komodo dragon use his right foot more proficiently.
“About a year ago, we noticed that Smaug wasn’t using his right, front foot normally and that occasionally he was flipping it underneath and walking on the top of his toes,” said Dr. Lauren Howard, associate veterinarian at the Houston Zoo. “So that started the last year-and-a-half of our diagnostic investigation into what was going on with him. We’re still trying to determine why he’s not holding his foot the right way, but in the meantime our goal is to keep him holding his foot upward so he doesn’t continue to walk on the tops of his toes.”
Howard got in touch with Jared Howell, director of the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at Baylor, to see if he could help. When Howell got the call from the zoo, it was a huge surprise, but he was eager to assist.
“When a Komodo dragon picks up its foot, it slides forward and they fire their muscles and they are able to put their palm downward. What happened for Smaug is that he wasn’t able to fire his muscles to pull the foot forward, so as he picked up his shoulder to pull the foot forward, it stayed in the flex position and then he would land on it and roll his wrist underneath every single time he took a step,” said Howell. “He’s over 200 pounds, so that’s a lot of weight going onto that hand.”
Howell and colleagues visited Smaug at the zoo and took pictures and videos of him walking and came up with a plan to develop a rubberized spring-loaded device that would allow Smaug to have a natural range of motion at the wrist while still being able to then have it spring up when he took weight off of it so the palm would fall flat on the ground the way it should.
Howell and colleagues then took two casts of Smaug’s limb and came back to their labs at Baylor where they worked on a prototype of the orthosis. After a few iterations and some fine-tuning, they designed an orthosis that worked well for Smaug. The orthosis is made of urethane laminate, which is a flexible material that has tackiness to it to adhere to the scales and is easy to put on and take off.
But that wasn’t the end of their work. A short while after he was fitted for the orthosis, Smaug developed an infection in his foot, unrelated to the orthosis, which caused some mild cellulitis and swelling of the fingers. Howell and colleagues developed a second device to hold his foot in place while he healed. This device, made with silicone polymer, is also easy to get on and off and pre-positions the hand to help Smaug walk well. Smaug now has both devices and uses them as needed.
“We’ve noticed a difference in the management of Smaug’s right front foot. One thing we were having trouble with was his toes were starting to get swollen and infected from the trauma from how he was carrying the foot. With this latest brace, we were able to keep the toes straight and they healed up – they stopped getting traumatized, the swelling went down and they weren’t infected anymore. What we’re looking at is a long-term goal of keeping this brace on for four to six to eight months and hoping that over time, it will strengthen his arm and maybe help him keep it in the right position,” said Howard.
Howell notes that there was a learning curve in working with the reptile.
“It’s a bit different. You don’t have human tissue, you have scales, different muscle functions and joints that all move in different ways. All of those things added to the challenge, but it was a great learning experience and a lot of fun,” said Howell, who emphasized it was a collaborative effort of the entire Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at Baylor.
This post written by Bailey Cheney of the Houston Zoo Primate Department.
We first realized that Caesar, our geriatric Eastern black and white Colobus monkey, was losing his sight around January of 2013. It started off with one of the keepers realizing that his eyes were a little cloudy. Then we noticed that he was slightly hesitant about moving around his bedroom. A sure sign that his sight was in decline was when one of the keepers noticed him bump into a new bench that had been installed. After that, it seemed that his sight was going downhill at an alarming rate. He would sit in the same spot for a long time. Whenever he moved, he would pat the ground where he walked to feel his way around.
Caesar is the oldest eastern black and white colobus monkey in a zoo at 32 years old. He lives with his mate “Bibi” in an off-exhibit special-care facility where geriatric primates are housed with indoor/outdoor access. Instead of going outside once his sight decreased, he would sit right in the doorway to feel the sunshine and enjoy the breeze all from the comfort and safety of his “old man porch.” He moved around less, understandably, and as time passed, the entire primate staff was growing more concerned about him.
Our veterinarians got in contact with Dr. Nicholas Millichamp of Eye Care for Animals. The clinic is about a forty-five minute drive from the Houston Zoo. The day of the surgery, Caesar was moved into a crate with just enough room to relax and be comfortable. Once sedated, Caesar was given a pre-surgery screening to make sure that he still had functional retinas. Thankfully, he passed that test and the surgery began. During the surgery, Dr. Millichamp dyed the cataracts for better contrast to see what he was working on. He used a very small instrument to scrape, and then suck away, the old cataracts. After removing them, Dr. Millichamp put new lenses into both eyes. During the whole surgery, the doctor used a microscope to be able to closely see what he was doing. This microscope was set up to a camera and a screen so that those observing could see everything that Dr. Millichamp saw.
Once he returned home to the zoo and recovered, the entire primate staff was very anxious to see results. The first time that I realized that he could see was when a piece of zucchini (one of Caesar’s favorites) was rolling off of the feeding tray and Caesar caught it quickly. We observed him walk right up to his food, and he walked with confidence on the props in his bedrooms.
After a few bumps in the road as his eyes were a little slow to heal, he was finally cleared to go outside. When the door was opened, Bibi immediately went out, but Caesar hesitated. Then, he took a few steps forward and stepped onto the high walkway and followed Bibi over to a ray of sunshine, where he basked delightedly. We saw him enjoying the warm sun, watched birds fly by, and contentedly enjoy his surroundings.
Caesar continues to do amazingly well and it seems to us as if he’s lost ten years off of his 32 years. He vocalizes and displays vigorously in the morning to show the keepers who is boss, and interacts more with Bibi. These are all behaviors he had stopped doing when he was blind. He continues going strong, to the delight of the entire primate staff, and we hope to have much more time with him. We are all very thankful to the veterinary ophthalmologists who donated their time to so improve the quality of our old man’s Caesar’s life!
The Houston Zoo is very lucky to have a great veterinary team: a Director, a Manager, 4 Veterinarians, 3 Veterinary Technicians, and a myriad of other important players like zookeepers, purchasing and record-keeping staff. It takes a village to keep our animals healthy! Because of our continued, professional veterinary care at the zoo, the clinic staff’s daily schedule involves routine health checks and monitoring newborn, chronically ill or geriatric animals. But what happens when an animal becomes acutely ill and needs veterinary attention? And, what special considerations needs to be made to treat an animal as large as an orangutan?
Recently, one of our most beloved animals fell very suddenly ill: Cheyenne, our 42 year old orangutan who has been a devoted mother to four adopted kids. She quite abruptly started refusing food, and more alarmingly, water, and all she wanted to do was lie in her nest. Her most recent adoptee, 3 year old Aurora, was happy and active and thankfully did not seem too worried about her mama, but her keepers and the vet staff were extremely concerned. So, an action plan was developed and Cheyenne was sedated for a thorough physical exam. Indah, our 10 year old Sumatran orangutan female was selected to babysit Aurora while Cheyenne was away, as the two of them had a mutually friendly relationship already.
Cheyenne’s blood values were not looking good as her kidney function seemed compromised and several other important numbers were severely out of whack. Any number of problems could have been the reason for these aberrant results, and after consulting with a number of human doctors it was decided to do an exploratory abdominal surgery in case she had appendicitis or an internal abscess. Fortunately, neither of these were the case, so she was closed up and other veterinary specialists were consulted. It became obvious that she would need extended supportive care, which for an orangutan is not an easy task. A neonatal team of infusion specialists were called in to put an IV into a vein in Cheyenne’s foot, where she would be less likely to try to pull it out. It was covered by a cast once they successfully got it in, and she was kept partially sedated for her treatment and monitoring period that lasted two weeks. Through this IV lifeline, she received antibiotics, fluids and the sedative that kept her from being too active, while ensconced in a lovingly cushioned bed inside a recovery cage in the orangutan night house. She was watched carefully by the primate staff, who took turns staying overnight with her to make sure that her IV line was running properly and that she was resting comfortably. Keepers would offer her pureed fruits and vegetables via a long-handled spoon, and “milkshake” concoctions with everything from vanilla soy-milk to exotic juices, which she drank through a straw. Every 3 days, she was sedated more fully so that she could have additional blood tests done to check to see if her kidney values were improving. At this time, her recovery cage was completely cleaned and she was given new bedding of soft hay, blankets and makeshift pillows. It was a long, drawn-out period where all of the staff who loves her rallied around her and did everything possible to maximize her recovery and comfort. And….it worked!
Cheyenne has been off the IV and back in with Aurora for a few weeks now, and is slowly but surely getting her strength back. She began going outside again after a couple of weeks, but only in the early mornings when the heat is not too intense. We feel so grateful for her progress and Aurora is very happy to be back with her mama again.
We can never predict when one of our treasured zoo animals might become ill, but when it happens, there is no more determined set of people than our veterinarians and keepers who try their best to make that animal well again. And, we are very lucky to have them.
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You may remember a previous post about Justin, a sea turtle superhero. The last time we caught up with Justin, he and his son Trenton had come to the aid of almost a dozen sea turtles that had been cold-stunned in early December. With the recent cold front, Justin and his three children Cheyenne, Trenton, and Emma, headed back out to Christmas Bay in search of turtles in need of rescue. Read their story here: ... See MoreSee Less
Many of you may remember a post from a few weeks back about Justin, a local community member, and sea turtle superhero. Justin has a passion for sea turtles, and while he works full-time in the city, you can find him during his down time saving sea turtles all along the Texas Coast. The last …
This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.
Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory
I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.
Is this the one that had the limp?
This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔
I saw him limping about 2 weekends ago. The first time we walked by he was fine. When we walked by on the way out he was limping and moaning pretty loudly. I wondered what happened but I figured his keeper already knew or would find out shortly. Super Sad. He was always a lively one.
Sorry to hear about your loss. We also lost a jaguar(melanistic variety) at Reid Park Zoo about a year ago. Nikita was 21 years old and was euthanized due to health-related issues. Sad, but they have a GOOD life at the zoo! No predators, a steady food supply, medical attention, loving kindness from her keeper(s) and admiration by the public. Geriatric animals have unique problems and we are blessed to get to know them as long as we do.
Jaguar habitat is in the Zoo or Jungle's? ??or is only entertainments for person's? ??$$$$$$$!.Sorry animals the person's don't love you ..
Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.
Dunno if the Zoo staff considered him a pet but he was certainly a family member, and because of that i offer this:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....
Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?
Sending love to the keepers that are broken hearted right now. And thank you for all the care you’ve given.
Beautiful jaguar ....so grateful for the Houston Zoo keepers and veterinary team that gave their time and efforts to share this awesome jaguar with us for so many years.
He was well-cared for and most of all well-loved. My heartfelt condolences to those missing Kan B as well as me. What an amazing ambassador for his kind. What a beautiful old gentleman. Thank you for loving him into old age and giving him peace.
What a great long life he lived because of his excellent care at the zoo Thoughts go out to his keepers and the entire Houston Zoo staff
Thank you for doing what was right and kind for Kan Balam even though it was hard and painful for you. That’s true love for an animal. ❤️
RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.
I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3
Aww I’m so sorry for the loss, I’ve seen him many times, he was absolutely gorgeous! I’m glad that you guys were able to make him comfortable, sometimes the best thing we can do is let them be at peace. Will miss this handsome guy; play hard at the Rainbow Bridge friend, day hi to my cat, Junior for me!! Much love to the HZI staff!!
Jaguars are one of my favorite and he seems like a sweet boy. I'm so sad but I'm happy he can be painless and be free now. RIP❤️
The Houston Zoo staff has lost several animals this year and I am sure each one is so hard to go through.
I am soo sorry for the loss of this handsome fella Kan Balam. May he rest in peace and run free or any pain over the rainbow bridge.. My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of the staff at the Zoo.
Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs
So sorry to the keeping staff for your loss i cant imagine how youre feeling :( his old age is a testimony to the amazing care he received
I will miss him. The last time I saw him he looked tired, and it appeared his foot was bothering him.
Sad to hear of this. Thanks for taking such good and compassionate care for him and the other animals.