Thursday, August 14, 2008

Excerpts from a Zoo Intern's Journal, Pt. II

Names and details fudged to protect the innocent and influential.

I help change out the dove’s paper. The frogs get specially distilled “Culligan water” every day and get powdered (not gut-loaded) crickets every other day. We are supposed to give them plenty, so they never have to fight over food. They also get misted with the Culligan water. W is pleased that I know this is because chlorine is bad for their skin, which they breathe through. Their lamp, like the turtles’, is a large UVA/UVB spot, and they are kept at around 82 °F. No wonder I’m sweating in here!

The birds get diets of mixed veggies, fruits, seeds and other stuff, like “soft bill” mix for the dove, ½ in the morning and ½ in the evening. We have to put the birds’ food bowls in a larger dish of water to form a “moat,” because there is an ant problem in this building. If you look closely enough in almost any area animals are housed, you see lots of tiny ants sniffing around for scraps. Frankly, working with animals and their food in old buildings in the middle of a park in summer, this is probably the least offensive problem they could have.

W also shows me the notation system on the whiteboards, which matches the zoo database. Each animal has an assigned number and code. They also have a numbering system by gender, where, for example, 0.0.3 stands for 3 mantella frogs of unknown gender, and 0.1 stands for one female fruit dove. There are notations for what rooms the animals are in, as well.

By the way, if you introduce a new animal into quarantine, all the other animals in the room go back to day one of the thirty days, too. However, according to W, there are “grey areas” where the full 30 days is judged unnecessary. I imagine that there would have to be, with the limited space they have.

W takes me in to see keeper Isabela in ISO. ISO here is not really an isolation unit, but a sort of holding area. It’s full of fish tanks, aquariums with bugs, snakes, turtles, lizards and frogs in them, and a separate room where some other animals are being held because they are supposed to be moved elsewhere. W gets the impression that I’m a herp nut (well, I do like them) and thinks I’ll enjoy looking around. They do a lot of water quality checks here, usually in the morning, and W later tells me that learning how to do that got her her first job at the NY Aquarium. I hope I get to learn that while I’m here.

Back in the clinic, she enters info into the database system the use. Holy cow – it’s on DOS! Another small budget constraint, I guess. W says she used to be a computer programmer in C++, by the way, so that must particularly annoy her.

The vet, Dr. R, comes in, and things become a whirlwind. She does a bandage change on the scalped tragopan (a type of pheasant). I keep an eye on the anaesthesia settings as she explains the exposed bone of the skull must be kept moist. She is intentionally a bit rough with the wound area to promote blood flow. They use a rectal probe for the pulse oximeter. Both she and W are pleased when they forget they meant to pull up fluids and I ask if they want me to do it for them. I feel like having to be on my toes at the hospital is maybe helping me out a little bit.

Meanwhile, I’m noting where all the supplies and meds are, and that they use PDS-II 4-0 sutures and give fluids near the rear of the bird to avoid the air sacs. W tells me the pocket under the dorsal hinge of the leg is a good place. After applying SSD, they discuss with the supervisor whether there’s any medical reason for the tragopan not to go back on exhibit. The doctor takes a Sharpie and colors in a piece of Duoderm, testing to see if the ink will bleed through. It doesn’t, so they put it on the bird and she’s ready to go. Up close, she looks like she’s wearing a little birdie yarmulke, which I guess will match all the little Chasid boys running all over the zoo. We are near a famous Jewish neighborhood, after all.

Next up is a Western screech owl with a chronically inflamed joint on her wing. They take radiographs (which I develop) and blood samples. The owl skeleton, particularly the head, with its enormous eye sockets, is very cool. Unfortunately, the bone looks like it’s part of the growth, so they discuss amputation as they wake her up.

Now we have Hydrox, an elderly guinea pig whose hair sticks up in clumps like an anime character. I keep processing rads and track of where W is getting the supplies from, like the formalin sample jar, catheters, slides and surgery pack. They are checking out a wound on Hydrox’s foot and taking a biopsy of a growth in the lower conjunctiva of her eye. They don’t have some of the instruments Dr. R wants, so she MacGuyvers something out of a scalpel and some wire. She is clearly really good at what she does.

They use DMSO on Hydrox’s foot to help her absorb the medication. The supervisor grinds her claws down with a dremel, as long as she’s out, anyway. Her rads show she is full of gas – poor thing – so they give her Gas-X, as well. Her veggies will be rationed to discourage bloat. She takes a long time waking up and it worries us a bit, so she’s put in the incubator to recover. I make her up a paper tray of food and wish her well.

Heading to lunch, I meet Stu the fish crow, who calls out “hi!” from his enclosure near the clinic. There are chipmunks all over and wild bunnies zooming through the undergrowth. I guess the zoo is a haven for the wild local critters, as well.

By the sea lion pool, I meet up with zookeeper Dalli, so she can let me into the locker room. She is stopped by a woman, grandchild in tow, who says “oh, there used to be bears and other big animals here. I remember when it was a really INCREDIBLE zoo… about 45 years ago.” When she leaves, Dalli and I share an eyeroll. “Oh, back when they used to keep elephants in trash-compactor sized cages, you mean?” we snort. Sadly, this is not even close to the most ignorant comment I will hear from visitors as my internship progresses...

1 comment:

FirstNations said...

I love the birdie yamulke!

this is fascinating, lady. i want to see more just like this. bird yamulkes, frogs dipped in evian, all that. what a cool place to serve an internship!!!!