You may not see the work of the veterinary department when you visit Perth Zoo but it plays a very important role behind the scenes.
Perth Zoo has its own on-site veterinary hospital which sees everything from tigers and lizards to birds and bears. There are four core areas of veterinary operations: clinical work, preventative health & nutrition, conservation medicine, quarantine.
The core work of the Veterinary Department is to provide a veterinary service to the Zoo’s animal collection. This often involves procedures such as surgery, taking x-rays, performing ultrasound examinations, taking blood samples, dental work, and giving medications, and is as varied as the animals that we treat.
Many of our patients need to be anaesthetised to undertake these procedures, in some cases to reduce the stress on the animal and at other times because the animal is dangerous.
Cases can be as varied as:
- performing a health check on a Sumatran Orangutan
- an ultrasound of a tree kangaroo’s heart to investigate a heart murmur
- performing a root canal on a Spotted Hyaena
- fixing a wild cockatoo’s broken wing
- hand-raising Numbats and Dibblers
- treating a skink with a swollen tongue
Preventative Health and Nutrition
Perth Zoo takes a proactive approach to the health care of its animals. This involves regular health checks by the veterinary staff and daily monitoring of each animal by the keepers.
Some of the procedures that veterinary staff do as part of preventative care include
- physical examinations
- running blood tests
- administering preventative treatments
Vaccinations are a very important part of preventative health care. At Perth Zoo, primates, macropods (kangaroos and wallabies) and elephants are vaccinated against tetanus; the Spotted Hyaenas and Slender-tailed Meerkats are vaccinated against distemper and parvovirus; and the lions and tigers are vaccinated against the same diseases as domestic cats.
Preventative health care also includes providing each animal with a balanced and nutritious diet to maintain a healthy weight and condition.
Conservation Medicine is a growing scientific discipline which aims to understand the role of health and disease in wild animals (as ecosystems rather than individuals) and how it relates to their conservation.
Trying to achieve this ‘big picture’ understanding requires an interdisciplinary approach and draws on the expertise of personnel with a variety of experiences and skills. The veterinary team participates in a range of conservation medicine activities in collaboration with other ecologists, biologists, university researchers and government environmental workers.
Involvement ranges from advisory roles and participation on recovery teams through to field anaesthesia and health assessment of wild animals, such as:
- screening for diseases in endangered wild Black Cockatoos
- investigation into the role of disease in the decline of Woylie populations
- increasing veterinary input into breed-for-release programs for threatened native species to better understand the role of health and disease in captive and wild populations
- assisting in the planning for captive management and health surveillance of the endangered Western Ground Parrot
- undertaking health examinations, the collection of biological samples, disease screening and anaesthetising (wild) sea lions
Perth Zoo’s veterinary input to these programs is increasingly valued as central to effective species conservation.
Quarantine procedures are essential to maintaining the health of zoo animals by preventing the introduction of infectious diseases.
Perth Zoo staff and premises are qualified to keep animals that are imported from overseas at the Zoo for quarantine instead of sending them to an external facility. This allows the vets to provide individual, specialist care.
Incoming animals undergo quarantine when they arrive at the Zoo and during this time, veterinary staff perform health screen checks (examination for parasites, blood tests to assess general health or specific diseases, and vaccinations) and treat any illnesses. Staff also undertake health examinations on outgoing animals that are being sent to other zoos or being returned/released into the wild.
When caring for quarantined animals, veterinary staff follow a set of procedures which minimises the risk of spreading disease, including wearing protective clothing, proper disposal of waste and uneaten food and a job-roster.