Did you know primates have to see doctors? Those doctors happen to be veterinarians, but it’s true! Primates are very similar to humans, and we can get a lot of the same sicknesses. Something that doesn’t seem so bad for humans, like the common cold, can be devastating to a primate if it turns into pneumonia. This is one of the many reasons why primates make bad pets; it is simply too dangerous for the primates’ health.
Our primate keepers here at the Houston Zoo have to be cleared of certain illnesses (like tuberculosis) before they can even work with our prosimians, monkeys and apes. To help protect against the spread of these diseases, keepers wear gloves and face masks when cleaning up after their animals. And if one of our keepers is sick they have to stay home, or, if just a minor problem, wear gloves and masks all day.
So let’s say that one of our primates gets sick. Here at the Zoo we have all kinds of ways to try and help them out. If a primate has a runny nose and a cough for more than a couple of days, the vets may prescribe cold medicine or antihistamines to help clear that up. Other injuries may require pain medicine. Prevention is important too, so all of our primates receive regular treatments on a monthly basis, similar to your pets at home.
Ever wonder why we ask guests not to throw snacks at our animals? Controlling calories is one reason. Another is that many species are very sensitive to unfamiliar food which could trigger severe gastric upset. We specially design the diets of all of our animals. And lastly, as was mentioned above, primates can become very sick from germs transferred from a guest via food thrown at them.
Chronic illnesses can occur in primates as it can in humans. Diabetes is one of these chronic illnesses that can impact a non-human primate’s quality of life. To help with this disease, our vets will evaluate the animal’s diet to reduce foods with too much sugar, which in turn will lower the animal’s blood sugar, and prevent or reverse weight gain. That, along with medications to help keep the illness in check, will help them live a long and healthy life. And, acute illnesses like a bladder or kidney infection are treated with appropriate antibiotics and intensive care, when necessary.
Here at the Houston Zoo we strive to make all of our animal’s lives long and happy ones. Sometimes it is harder than others with animals that don’t want to take their medication, or eat what is best for them. But that is just part of the amazing challenge that we face to give our primates all that they deserve. The vet team and animal care teams work together to ensure the best care for all of the animals in the zoo, and it is a daunting task, but one we all embrace wholeheartedly!