Thursday, January 30, 2020
The Keeper’s Role in Zoo Animal Health
Judie Steenberg (1977/2007)
Note: The article is copyrighted by AAZK, Inc. If it is reprinted, it much include the acknowledgement wording as follows: “©2007 AAZK, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc. (AAZK), 3601 SW 29th St., Ste. 133, Topeka, Kansas 66614-2054 USA; www.aazk.org<
This paper was originally written in August 1977 while I was a student at the University of Minnesota studying for a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoo Operations and Animal Management. Although 30 years have passed since it was written, and later published in Animal Keepers’ Forum (1979-80), the content remains relevant to the care and management of animals in zoos, today (2007).
There were three objectives I’d hoped to accomplish when I wrote this paper:
1. To record what I had learned through observations and experiences as a student, a volunteer and a keeper, from zoo personnel and veterinarians associated with zoos, through reading, from courses in medical terminology, animal hygiene and animal science.
2. To identify the areas in which zookeepers can make a difference in the health and safety of the animals in their keep.
3. To emphasize the importance of cooperation and communication in achieving maximum effectiveness of veterinary care for zoo animals.
The selection of topics for this paper, and the opinions expressed herein, have been arrived at for the most part from personal experience. Where quotations are used, I am in agreement with them.
Topics which I have elaborated upon are those which I have experienced most fully. Topics which are mentioned with only minimal additional information are those which I am aware of but had little or no experience with. Therefore, this paper represents what I have learned, and am knowledgeable about, regarding the Keeper’s Role in Zoo Animal Health. Examples that are given throughout this chapter are based on actual events in a zoological facility.
What follows is by no means a complete account of information on the Keeper’s role in this part of a zoo’s operation, but is instead, a beginning, a foundation upon which to build.
It is my hope that keepers entering the profession will find it helpful in learning the best way to be the advocates they should be for the animals in their care. Keepers are at the beginning of interpreting the needs of the animals. You are their voice.
More than ever before in the history of zoos, wild animals in captivity should be receiving optimum care and treatment for their general good health and well-being. This is not to say that zoo animal medicine has reached its peak. On the contrary, it must be still be considered to be a developing area of veterinary medicine. My statement regarding optimum care is based on the many advances that have been and are being made in zoo animal medicine, increased training and participation of zoo personnel and an over- all cooperative attitude.
Today, many zoos employ veterinarians on a full-time basis to tend to the medical needs of the animals in their collections; other zoos have part-time veterinary service based on daily or weekly visits and emergencies. Some zoos must still rely on veterinary services on an on-call or emergency call basis only, and a few zoos have Directors who are also Doctors of Veterinary Medicine.
Other medical personnel found in zoos are veterinary technicians or assistants, lab-technicians and pathologists. Many zoos rely on local laboratories to run tests on blood, urine or tissue samples. Zoos that have Animal Health Departments often have veterinary students training at their facility.
This chapter deals specifically with the role of the animal keeper in zoo animal health. In actuality, the keeper is at the end of the line in a zoo’s chain of command regarding animal health, coming after the director, assistant director(s), curators, zoologists, collection managers, head or supervisory keepers and perhaps even after other keepers with more seniority. However, the keeper responsible for the daily care of zoo animals, and especially the keeper of a sick or injured animal, is in a unique and important position. Yet, it is a tenuous position dependent upon several things on the part of the keeper, the administration and the veterinarian; namely attitude, personalities and policies.
- The role a keeper can play as an integral part of a team effort in a zoo’s animal health program should be recognized.
- The keeper must be aware of his or her relative position in a zoo’s animal health program in terms of accurate observations and communications, following directions on care and treatment, and maintaining a cooperative attitude.
Before a keeper can be a participant in the animal health program there must be some training or background to draw from. Zoo keeper training programs may or may not provide this basis. As a minimum instruction a keeper should be made aware of what procedures to follow when an animal is sick or injured. Some zoos have keeper training programs which include preparing a keeper to participate more fully in animal health. Regardless of a zoo’s training program, individual effort and self-preparedness, on the part of the keeper, will probably be the key factor as to whether the keeper is a help or hindrance to the animal, to other zoo personnel and the veterinarian in a time of need.
One of the definitions of “attitude” is …a manner of acting, feeling or thinking that show one’s disposition, opinion, etc. An attitude can be reflected as a spontaneous reaction to an emotion or experience, or it can be developed as a vital part of an individual’s personality. Keepers’ attitudes regarding the well-being of animals in their keep may range from anthropomorphic to antagonistic, or on the other hand can be rational and cooperative.
Animals often elicit an emotional response from keepers, especially if something has happened to cause the animal discomfort. These emotions may intensify if the keeper immediately responsible for the care
of a sick or injured animal feels helpless to relieve the problem. The attitude reflected by the keeper of a sick animal can have an effect on the speed and efficiency with which the animal receives medical attention. The rational, cooperative keeper will evaluate the situation, take whatever immediate action is necessary and, according to the seriousness of the problem, and notify the proper people.
The keeper with an antagonistic or know-it-all attitude who cannot, or will not, accept the role of others in treating a sick or injured animal can hamper proper treatment and complicate the condition. This attitude can also cause the breakdown of communication and cooperative efforts and in the end result in feelings of resentment toward the keeper. The keeper who tends to be anthropomorphic or anthropopathetic, and doesn’t deal with the problem, may not be capable of being objective and realistic regarding the care and treatment of sick animals. These attitudes are difficult for other people to work with and should be avoided.
Although it may seem, to some keepers, that going through the chain of command to notify the veterinarian that an animal needs attention is an unnecessary waste of time, it serves two important purposes. It can put the keeper in contact with several members of the zoo staff. This would be the case in zoos where the policy is that the keeper contacts the senior keeper, then members of the administrative staff and the veterinarian, instead of passing the responsibility to another person and then sitting back and waiting. There are pros and cons to this method and the individual keeper must be considered. This would not work with all keepers but would be the most effective in establishing good working relationships with the rational, cooperative keeper and his/her administrators and veterinarians.
The second important advantage of going through a chain of command is that everyone concerned has been notified of the problem and, therefore, may be able to help. At least they have been apprised of the situation. Whatever the zoo’s policy is, the keeper should work within the system rather than against it. If there are serious problems in the chain of command and in communicating information, they should be dealt with and the problems resolved.
The attitude expressed by a keeper and the relationships that are developed are what the keeper’s reputation is based upon. A keeper should take care to establish a good reputation with immediate co- workers, supervisory personnel, the director and veterinarian. The reliable, capable, cooperative and knowledgeable keeper who can communicate is an important part of zoo animal health.
Also of importance is that the keeper understands and works within his or her degree of authority. This applies to the apprentice or novice level up through senior or supervisory levels, and keepers should act accordingly. It should also be remembered that with increased authority comes increased responsibility to act.
When keeper professionalism is discussed, many qualities are listed. The keeper “…is the first to begin to interpret some communication from the animal.” (Nall 1972-73). How well the keeper responds to that condition has a great deal to do with professionalism. In 1975 Stoskopf stated: “Zoological medicine is in its infancy and we as keepers and veterinarians are working toward the same goal. We can benefit ourselves and our animals only by working together and sharing our discoveries”. Much has been learned since the 1970s, and we are still learning. What hasn’t changed, and never will, is the need for keepers and veterinarians, to work together for the benefit of the animals in their care.
On the other hand, the keeper who hoards information as “professional secrets” can hinder the progress of an animal’s recovery. Such a person doesn’t belong in a zoo.
Another potential attitudinal problem is over-dedication; coming to work no matter how debilitated, no matter how sick the keeper feels. Zoonoses, defined as “…a disease communicable from animals to humans under normal conditions.” (Merriam-Webster 2003) works the other way, too. A sick keeper can transmit disease to animals as well, especially to primates. In “Zoonoses and the Animal Keeper” (Bielitzki 1977), keepers are reminded to consider the possibility that they may also carry bacteria and viruses from home to work, from persons with whom the keeper lives, from pets kept at home and from farm animals the keeper may be in contact with.
Another point regarding a keeper’s attitude is that all animals should be equally well cared for; the small, sometimes referred to, or considered to be, insignificant animals deserve the same consideration regarding their care and welfare as do the more exciting, expensive or mega-vertebrate animals.
For a keeper to be effective in his or her role in zoo animal health, communication skills must be developed to share information with others and also to seek out the knowledge and advice of others. There is an art to asking and answering questions. The way a question is phrased and presented drastically affects the type of response. Conversely, the way a person answers a question generally reflects a person’s attitude, training and personality. Questions should be a means to learn more about a situation or to share information with others, not to challenge someone’s position. Well-intended, well- phrased questions will usually bring about the information being sought. Demanding answers to questions may result in no answer at all and have a closed door effect.
Note taking and record keeping are important to all concerned. “Proper recording of information is important to document techniques, routines and data for the benefit of all employees and for analysis.” (Peel 1975). Important data should not be trusted to memory. The experienced as well as the novice keeper would do well to carry a small notebook and pen or pencil to record observations and data as soon as they become apparent. The next best practice is to record notes at the first opportunity. It is conceivable that the new keeper would spend time taking notes throughout the day, until procedures, the facilities and especially the animals become familiar. Veteran keepers may only take notes occasionally, but must take care not to take too much for granted and thereby deny others the benefit of his/her experience.
Records in zoos vary a great deal as does the keeper’s participation in record keeping and data retrieval. Fortunate is the keeper who is allowed to participate in the record keeping system. Data retrieval from a zoo’s records is as important to a keeper’s training as is the case history to the veterinarian. However, regardless of the keeper’s position in relation to the zoo’s record keeping policies, there is value in keeping a “Keeper’s Notebook”. It can serve as a means of review and for sharing experiences and information with co-workers. Today’s keepers have the benefit of computers to record and store data for record keeping. Again, the access a keeper has to a zoo’s animal records will vary from zoo to zoo.
When seeking information on the care and management of zoo animals on the internet there is one word that comes to mind…..CAUTION. Just because something is on the internet DOES NOT MAKE IT VALID. Know the source and reliability of any data you are using. Unfortunately, there is incorrect data on the internet which cannot, and will not, be corrected.
The sharing of information is especially important between the keepers in an area, such as the regular and relief keepers. The responsibility of informing the other keeper lies with the keeper directly
involved with a new situation. This does not, however, exclude the less-informed keeper from asking questions about an animal’s condition, or a prescribed treatment, if not properly informed. “I wasn’t asked” or “I wasn’t told” are no excuses for not briefing each other when problems with an animal’s health and welfare are apparent, and such attitudes should be reprimanded. A keeper returning to work from days off should seek information to be brought up to date on the condition of all the animals in the area he/she is responsible for.
“Keeper Know thyself” should include a self-evaluation of one’s personality traits, both the strong and weak characteristics.
Awareness is knowing what’s taking place; observing and interpreting what one sees, hears or feels, knowing what conditions are present. Some people seem to be naturally observant but actually “…we see only what we know” (Goethe). It is possible for a keeper to develop powers of observation by watching things with an active, inquiring mind; by learning as much as possible about the animals being kept.
Ego must never interfere with the welfare of a keeper’s animals. Self-confidence is important but over- confidence can be dangerous to the keeper, the animals and anyone else involved in a situation. A zoo is not the place to bolster one’s ego. Super egos not only lose sight of what the process of animal health is about but can interfere with the beneficial actions and attitudes of other keepers. Wearing decorative scarves or jewelry, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, etc. to enhance the appearance of the keeper is inadvisable. Such items can be attractive to some animals and if given an opportunity grabbed by the animal and ingested. The concern here is not for the personal loss to the keeper but for what effect an ingested item will have on the animal. An informed, conscientious keeper is aware of this possibility and takes care to keep easily-grabbed pens or pencils, packs of cigarettes, glasses, keys or any other loose item well out of the reach of primates, elephants, raccoons or any other animal that has the physical ability and inclination to take such items.
Adverse reactions to fragrances worn by keepers is not limited to female keepers wearing perfumes or scented body lotions; a musk after-shave worn by a male keeper can have a strong negative effect on animals also. Keepers should minimize wearing strong fragrances on-the-job; save it for after hours.
At some time during a keeper’s career it will probably be necessary to handle a situation where a member of the public is teasing or actually injuring animals. It is a time when self-control may be difficult and the keeper would prefer to take the offenders to task rather than deal with them rationally. The immediate objective is to make the harassment stop! Whether a keeper can handle the situation alone or needs help from other keepers or security personnel depends on the situation. The keeper should be prepared, mentally, to size up the situation and deal with it in the best way possible. When dealing with the public the keeper is always serving in the role of public relations agent and even at a time like this an effort should be made to remember that role. Generally, wrong-doers cease their actions when they realize they’ve been caught and often will leave the area on the run. But, if not, a keeper should keep cool-headed and act promptly.
Another emotion-charged situation is the emergency. It is also a time when cool-headedness and composure can help relieve the problem while panic and hysteria only add to it. It’s not unusual for the novice keeper to become somewhat excited in an emergency situation, but as long as the excitement is
under control and the keeper can function properly, he/she can still be of help. A keeper’s calmness during a time of excitement can have a quieting effect on the animals, too. If a keeper realizes he/she has a problem controlling emotions or has an aversion to pain, blood or death, it is best for all concerned for the keeper to come to grips with the problem. If that’s not possible, if the emotional reaction is too strong to cope with, then it must be realized that this particular keeper cannot be depended on in an emergency.
A personality trait that could have a serious, negative effect on the health of a zoo animal is a keeper’s inability to admit mistakes. Everyone has and will make mistakes. If a mistake is serious and causes an animal to be injured or become sick, it must be admitted to facilitate treatment. An example of this would be over-graining of an equine. The quantity and type of grain fed is important for the veterinarian to determine the degree of seriousness of the situation and to know what to be prepared for to treat the animal. Withholding such information could result in the treatment not being effective and the animal becoming permanently lame.
A keeper can do several things to improve his/her value as a participant in the health of zoo animals. Again, knowing the zoo’s procedures and policies can facilitate treatment of a sick or injured animal. A keeper should not be asking “who do I call” or “what do I do” but should be taking action instead. Knowing a routine and the animals well comes from being observant, asking questions and taking notes. It also requires some effort on the keeper’s part to research the natural behavior of the animals being cared for. “For the keeper to begin to determine the abnormal, he/she must fully understand and know the normal.” (Nall 1972-73). A keeper may or may not have time to do this research during working hours, but in either case it is important that it be done. Another invaluable source of information is the zoo’s records. Although it can be time-consuming, reviewing the history of each animal being cared for will reveal important, useful data.
Until working in a zoo, a keeper may not have heard words such as amplexus, cloacal, monotreme or olfaction, much less agonistic behavior, colostrum, ecdysis or even fecal. Becoming familiar with the definition of words such as these, and many others, will aid in communications. Here again, it’s up to the individual to make the effort to learn zoo terminology. A good way to start is to simply ask for the meaning of unfamiliar works. Note- taking helps and a dictionary is indispensable.
An understanding of basic medical terminology can be an asset in communication between the veterinarian and keeper. Many of the definitions of basic medical terms can be learned through self- study. Local libraries, and some zoo libraries, have books on medical terminology. A keeper might also consider taking a medical terminology course at a local vocational-technical school. In any case, when a medical term is used or instructions are given using medical terminology, if the meaning of a word is not fully understood, the keeper must ask for an explanation.
Zoo books have become more common in recent years and some care must be taken when purchasing some of these books. Information on the internet must be from a reliable source to be dependable…..know where your information is coming from; ask questions if in doubt. If there was but one set of references that a keeper should become familiar with it would be the International Zoo Yearbook. Published on an annual basis, these yearbooks are described as “…an indispensible publication for everyone concerned with care, conservation, biology and behavior of wild animals.” (IZY 1976). Each volume contains a section on a specific topic while other sections contain articles on
breeding, husbandry, hand-rearing, buildings and exhibits, conservation, education, veterinary care and statistics and surveys. There are many good references; some old standbys and others published in recent years. Some of the most helpful references are listed at the end of the paper. A must-read author is Heini Hediger; his books are timeless in the basic principles of zoo animal husbandry. I would encourage you to read all three of his books: Wild Animals in Captivity (1964), The Psychology and Behaviour of Animals in Zoos and Circuses (1968) and Man and Animal in the Zoo (1969). You might be thinking these are “old” books but trust me, if you are serious about being a successful zoo keeper, these books will help you be the best you can be.
Reading is a form of self-education that should never end.
In a keeper’s day it’s hard to imagine that something hasn’t happened that’s worth making a note of for future reference. A seemingly insignificant observation can later be the key to further discovery. Note- taking is a habit that can be developed. The tendency to keep notes, whether on a personal basis, for a daily report, or the zoo’s records may diminish in time. A keeper should guard against this happening. Beyond note-taking, a keeper should seriously consider writing of his/her experiences and observations for sharing with others in the zoo field. And this does not just apply to animal health issues. Ideas and knowledge should be communicated, shared with others who can use the information to better care for their animals
While preparing oneself to become a more knowledgeable keeper through self-study, it would be well to remember that “chance favors only the prepared mind.” (Beveridge 1957)
One piece of advice given to me by a Senior Keeper was:
“If you don’t learn something every day you’re not paying attention.” Over the years I found this to be right on….in all aspects of zoo animal keeping.
It’s hard to imagine that one could ever learn all there is to know about zoo animals.
A basic knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the animals a keeper is caring for is necessary to understanding guidelines for meeting the animals’ basic needs. It is also important to know what to avoid. The quality of the captive environment is dependent on several things; useable space, proper temperature and humidity, and avoiding hazardous designs. The animals’ nutritional requirements, social needs, sensory apparatus and reproductive process should all be given consideration and provided for.
Knowing what’s normal for a species and what special needs they may have will help a keeper tend to the animals properly. It will help the keeper to be more aware of the need to stimulate an animals’ sensory apparatus and see that the body functions are operating normally.
The Individuality of Animals
“The keeper must know what normal is for every one of his charges…everyday behavior, eating habits, gait, odors, discharges, fecal and urination characteristics.” (Porter 1975)
Learning the individual habits and needs of the animals takes time and careful observation. Nall (1972-
73) points out that many times it takes much close observation for even the most experienced keeper to interpret a communication from an animal.
Communication between people is again a key factor. The senior keeper should share all of the knowledge he or she has about individual characteristics or habits of the animal with the new keeper. Once a new keeper is aware of certain habits, peculiarities or abilities of an animal, an effort should be made to become familiar with them and to remember them.
Animals as a group and as individuals are quite expressive. Hediger (1968) lists four main areas of animal expression: acoustic, optic, olfactory and internal. Some animals make sounds (vocal, nasal or dermal) such as clacking beaks, grinding teeth or shaking rattles to express their psychological state and/or intentions. Still other animals produce sounds with the help of objects; beavers use water surfaces to make sounds, rabbits thump the ground, primates can make a variety of sounds in a cage by banging or shaking it. These expressions along with the various calls of animals can be to express territorialism, alarm, fear, aggression, anticipation, courtship, recognition and well-being. The keeper should learn the meaning of all of these expressions.
Optical expressions can be facial expression, gestures, color changes or changes in stance or contour. In facial expressions the ears, jaws, teeth, lip position, dilation of pupils, the tongue, the position of the nose (elephant, tapir, seal) and yawning such as is used by primates and hippos, all mean something. A keeper should also be aware of tension of the neck, limbs or entire body, the bristling of the mane or rump patch, or a ruffling of feathers and/or raising the crest. These are all expressions.
The olfactory expression that immediately comes to mind is that of the skunk. There are other animals capable of emitting strong scents too, as an expression of alarm, to mark territory or as a defense mechanism.
According to Hediger (1968), internal expression phenomena are principally reaction of the digestive tract such as regurgitation or diarrhea. He cites such examples as: snakes and lizards may regurgitate after eating if handled improperly, various birds regurgitate when excited, elephants and camels are noted for emptying their bladders or discharging watery diarrhea, some amphibians and tortoises express fluid as a defense, tree kangaroos can suddenly emit a clear watery nasal discharge as a sign of stress (and turn it off as quickly as it started), an animal’s appetite may diminish or it may refuse to eat altogether as an expression of stress. Loose stools are a common digestive expression. “Consistency, color, smell etc. must be examined regularly so that possible digestive troubles may be treated at once.” (Hediger 1964).
One more form of expression, not covered in the four main areas, is “shamming”. An animal may exhibit a limp or not use a limb while being observed and yet move about normally when no one is watching. If this sort of behavior is suspected, the animal should be observed from a hidden observation point to determine if the hunch is correct.
A keeper must know what reaction animals have to various stimuli (noise, unfamiliar people, changes in routine, temperature, pasture or pens, etc.). The psychological state is closely allied with the physical state; the mind controls the body to the extreme of convulsions, hysteria, regurgitation, and flight reactions when an animal is severely stressed. Psychological stress often manifests itself physically, and no two animals will necessarily react alike. There is also variation in the reactions of young animals versus old animals. Experience applies to animals, too. Stress plays an important part in the overall welfare of animals and can have a pronounced effect on reproduction. It’s up to the keeper to know the signs of stress, to avoid causing it, and when it occurs, eliminate the cause.
Hediger (1968) lists six areas to be aware of regarding an animal’s behavior: 1. acquisition and assimilation of food, 2. maintenance of living quarters, 3. social activity, 4. reproduction and care of young, 5. care of the body and comfort behavior and 6. play. A keeper should be able to identify these behaviors according to the individual animal, not just the species. As a group, a species of animals will generally act or react in a certain way, but frequently there are individual behavioral variations.
It is important for a keeper to be able to identify the animals from their appearance, also. A veteran keeper when asked “How can you tell them apart?” regarding a group of animals with few or no obvious difference in color, size or markings, may well answer…”they don’t look alike”…and not be facetious. It is frustrating to be told that, however, when to the untrained observer, they DO look alike. It takes time and effort to learn to tell similar-looking animals apart, but it can be done. Obvious identification marks make it possible for anyone to tell the animals apart and ear-notching, tagging or banding can be useful for that purpose. Animals are also sometimes tattooed, for the purpose of identification, but usually in an inconspicuous place. If an ear tag or band is lost, it should be reported and replaced promptly. If it isn’t replaced, the hole or tear in the ear can serve as an identification mark. Animals with obvious facial, body or tail patterns or colorations should be photographed and the photo attached to the animal’s records to facilitate identification. This is especially useful when training new keepers to ID animals.
All animals should be assigned an identification number and will often have a house name. Keepers should know the ID numbers and names for each animal in their care and use them when reporting data on a particular animal. At the risk of being repetitious…..if a keeper doesn’t know how to identify an animal he/she should ask for advice, or help.
Most zoo animals should have a transponder implanted for permanent identification. A small capsule, with an individual identification number, is slipped under the skin of the animal and can then be read with a scanner.
Nutritional requirements and feeding habits of zoo animals vary. Quantity, frequency of feeding, location of food pans or hay bunkers, etc., temperature, consistency, container size, the animal’s age, health, social status and the climate are some of the factors affecting good animal nutrition. How much each animal is actually consuming when it is in a competitive situation (dam/offspring, herd, sibling rivalry), or how much food is carried off by transient birds or rodents must be considered.
The social status of an animal may be solitary, paired, small family group or a herd. A keeper should be knowledgeable of what the normal social structure is for his/her animals, and what ramifications there may be from a drastic change from the norm. Animals in a group situation exhibit various levels of dominance which can vary during breeding season or as younger animals assert themselves. A keeper must be aware of changing social situations, the problems of increased social stress, or the lack of
stimulation a social animal can suffer if kept by itself. Supervisory personnel should be kept informed of any changes in an animal’s behavior or social status. Adjustments in diet, the exhibit or populations should be made according to the seriousness of the problem.
In areas where there are weather extremes according to the seasons, a keeper should be alert to the animal’s comfort. All properly designed exhibits should provide shelter from the elements; wind, rain, sun, etc... Proper drainage is also a must; exhibits, pens or yards should not be constantly wet or damp. Substrate, such as concrete, can be detrimental to an animal’s well-being. Branches, shelves, platforms, nest boxes, soil, or bedding can help break up the hard surface of concrete and remedy the problem.
A keeper should know what temperatures various animals require for basic comfort and what indications they give to express discomfort. Humidity and ventilation are also factors in an animal’s environment. Adjustments in temperature, humidity and ventilation should be made according to the seasons or an animal’s needs, such as for the newly born or hatched. A keeper should know how to operate any temperature or humidity control equipment in any of his/her areas.
In some species, breeding behavior can be rough and possibly upsetting to the inexperienced keeper. Biting, kicking, squealing and knocking the females to the ground are not unusual for some species. Breeding posture and the duration of copulation also vary according to species. It behooves a new keeper to learn about the age of sexual maturity, frequency of breeding (seasonal, etc.) and the behaviors to expect from the animals he or she is responsible for. A keeper should also be able to tell if intromission was achieved.
Breeding attempts and successes should be carefully recorded and the probable date of birth or hatching determined. This date should be noted on a calendar readily viewed by anyone in the unit. During the months prior to parturition, preparations should be made. Plans need to be made to separate the pregnant female from the male or herd, if necessary. Nest boxes may need to be built and placed in the unit early enough for the parturient female to become familiar with or the animal may need to be given relief from visual contact with zoo visitors. In some cases it may be necessary to remove the animal from the exhibit, or block the exhibit from the public, until after the young have been born, are being cared for by the mother and she is ready to accept other stimuli.
Awareness of an animal’s needs and making preparations for a pending birth can make the difference between an animal successfully raising her young, rejecting it so it needs to be hand-raised or even destroying the young as has been the case with some jaguars, sun and polar bears, and tree kangaroos, in zoos. A careful check of the facilities should be made prior to the arrival of young to detect any places the young could “walk out”, or get “hung-up”.
Birds can be most challenging! Breeding seasons in captive situations can be affected by the temperature, rain, artificial light sources, or the normal breeding season of a bird from another hemisphere, etc... Keepers must learn the normal breeding patterns, nesting requirements, incubation periods and food requirements for each bird species in their care. Altricial species might require that you be prepared to spend considerable time hand-raising the chicks. Precocial species might require removing the chicks for various reasons. Preparations should be made well in advance to be ready for whatever is required for the survival of the chicks.
With the birth or hatching of young, a keeper has a new set of responsibilities and must be aware of the normal process of development of the young animal(s), according to the species. How soon after birth
the young animal attains a standing position, when it first suckles or picks up food, the duration of its feeding attempts, the first time it defecates or urinates, the color and consistency of the feces, the amount of urine or feces passed are all important to record for future reference. These things give an indication of the overall strength and condition of the young animal. Also worth noting are the dam’s reaction to her offspring, to the presence of people and the time lapsed until delivery of the afterbirth.
As the young animal grows and begins eating solid foods, how much it eats and what solids were eaten should be recorded; depending on the species and logistics, weights should be recorded as often as possible to monitor growth. Other data of interest are: when the eyes first opened, reactions to visual stimuli, changes in pelage/feathers, physical size and appearance, changes in dentition, vocalizations, when the young animal first left the nest, followed its dam, swam or moved about independently of its dam, etc.
It is very important that plans be made and supplies acquired prior to a birth if hand-raising is thought to be a possibility. Research should be done on the proper formula, teat size and shape, feeding schedule and species specific needs well in advance of the birth.
If it is necessary to remove a young animal for hand-raising, the date of birth, date removed, weights and measurements should be recorded. Records should also reflect the quantity and kind of food offered, consumption, the number and frequency of feedings offered during a 24-hour period and the method used to feed.
Whether mother-raised or hand-raised, the date and details regarding diet changes and prophylaxis or treatments should be recorded.
To summarize, the keeper’s knowledge and recognition of an animal’s individuality, a mark of success, is the relationship that is established between the keeper and the animals. Good relationships are conducive to animal health. Poor relationships can mean repeated stress which could result in health problems. A keeper need not be “friends” with each animal but must be aware of the animal’s psychological as well as physical needs and reactions, and try to work with them, not against them. “From the very start a person is either sympathetic or antipathetic to the animal. This fact is of the greatest importance in keeping animals.” (Hediger 1964).
Facilities and Equipment
The conscientious keeper is aware of the condition of the facilities in the area and either makes necessary repairs promptly or reports the need for them to the proper people. A daily check should be made to spot needed repairs or locate potentially hazardous conditions. A keeper who is on good terms with maintenance personnel has a better chance of getting work done than one who is at odds with them. Proper communications can make the difference in getting the work done promptly or having to wait for it to be done When a problem arises, it must be determined what effect it will have on the animals in the area (i.e. a broken fence), and safety precautions must be taken. It may mean keeping the animals off exhibit or moving them to another area.
Weakened barriers are an invitation to trouble and should be given routine maintenance to keep them strong. Even with a seemingly sufficient barrier, though, “…the rule applies that the effectiveness of a barrier is inversely proportionate to the strength of the animal’s degree of excitement. “ (Hediger 1964).
An area should never have loose fencing wire, nails, bailing twine or wire, tools, loose boards or protruding nails in it. All items (tools, wire etc.) taken into an area for making repairs must be removed before allowing the animals access to the area. Protruding wire and nails must be bent back to prevent possible injuries. For years after construction has taken place in an area, nails, bolts, etc. can work their way to the surface. Regular checks should be made and in large areas a magnet sulky should be dragged across the ground.
“Hardware disease” is caused when a foreign object, usually metal, punctures the reticulum of a ruminant. The problem is not rare since ruminants are generally indiscriminate eaters. A keeper should be keeping an eye out for foreign objects thrown into exhibits, moats, etc., such as paper cups, plastic bags, coins, or any object that might be consumed by an animal.
All units should be as predator proof as possible and an effort made to trap nocturnal predators such as owls, fox, skunk, raccoon, opossum, etc.
When there is a pending birth, the exhibit must be looked at with an eye toward what dangers there might be for a young animal, depending on the species. Two examples are:
1. a young giraffe became “hung up” on the front bars of the exhibit. Adequate precautions were not taken and it died when the incident occurred a second time.
2. a young tree kangaroo was observed to have climbed up a door frame to a screened area approx. 15-18 feet above a concrete floor. There was a _” edge on the door frame, thought to be too narrow for the animal to get a purchase on and to be able to climb. It made it down safely and the door frame was immediately modified to prevent recurrence.
There seems to be a rule that if something hazardous occurs and nothing is done to change it, it will occur again, probably with disastrous results.
Locks in all areas should be in good working condition and replaced when they become defective. The location and condition of capture and restraint equipment, and the proper way to use the equipment, should be known. If the new keeper isn’t knowledgeable on how to use capture equipment he/she should ask for training, if it is not offered.
Although smoking is not allowed in many zoos, “No Smoking” signs should be posted in all areas in which there are potential fire hazards, and care must be taken when using vehicles around hay storage areas. It has actually happened that a hay barn was started on fire by the hot exhaust pipe on a truck left running in the barn.
Keepers working in an area that has the potential of burning, especially old buildings, should have a plan of what to do if a fire breaks out. Knowing where fire extinguishers are and being sure they’ve been checked and are functioning properly, knowing which kind of fire the extinguisher is meant to put out, and knowing the location of the nearest telephone can help reduce fire loss. All telephone locations should have local fire and police numbers posted near them. Fire procedures and what to do in the event of a natural disaster such as a tornado, severe storm or flood should be emphasized as a part of a keeper’s orientation and training.
Food and water containers should be of the proper size and of unbreakable materials. To prevent an animal carrying off containers, or having them lodged on a part of the body, they should be weighted down or securely fastened to a fence or building. Dumping, or playing in water tubs seems to be a favorite pastime for some animals.
Following a basic routine is for the benefit of both the keepers and the animals. A routine can help to identify problems, allow for prompt treatment and insure that all animals have received proper care. A routine can be reassuring to the animals and serve as a means for the keeper to check that everything is in order.
The first duty a keeper has in a day’s work is to check all of the animals in his/her area. There will be some variation in this practice according to a zoo’s policies and physical lay-out, but at least within the first hour all animals should be accounted for and known to be alive and well, or otherwise. It is also important to note the condition of the facilities at this time, the amount of food and water consumed since last check, and the condition of the feces. If medication had been put into the feed, the amount eaten should be noted. If there is a medical or maintenance problem that needs immediate attention, the proper supervisory personnel should be promptly notified.
Talking to the animals lets them know you’re approaching A keeper’s voice identifies who is approaching and can be soothing to otherwise excited animals. It doesn’t matter what’s being said; the tone and calmness of the voice does. In some areas a radio can be helpful to give the animals exposure to voices and other sounds.
Before entering a cage/enclosure to pull food or water pans, or to clean it, it is usually beneficial to the animal to allow it to transfer to another cage or outdoor enclosure. This applies even to animals that pose no threat to the keeper, and is especially important with highly excitable animals. Clean is important, but not at the animal’s expense. A keeper should know and respect the animal’s territory and the critical flight distance for each animal being cared for.
In addition to talking to animals, it is important to know when to make eye contact with them. Some examples are: primates feel threatened or challenged when stared at, some timid species of birds and mammals can be worked with and moved quite easily if the person’s back is kept toward them, large raptors that have a tendency to be aggressive (defensive if nesting) can usually be kept at a safe distance by simply looking at them all the while the keeper is working near them. Another technique that benefits the animals is to move slowly and deliberately around animals and to exhibit an air of authority. Knowing how to work around various animals according to the species, and the individual, is a must.
Cage cleaning should be done thoroughly and efficiently. Having the proper tools (in good working condition), disinfectants and cleaning agents in a convenient but safe place, out of reach of the animals, helps the process go more smoothly. Care must be exercised when using cleaning agents or disinfectants that they are used according to the instructions. While cleaning a unit, care should be taken not to cross-contaminate other units by flushing feces or debris into them. After a unit and food and water containers have been properly cleaned, all equipment and cleaning materials have been removed from the unit, drain covers replaced and the unit securely locked, the animals can then be allowed to return to it.
Many animals anticipate feeding time; some actually become highly excited. Part of a keeper’s daily routine should be to feed animals on schedule. This includes both the number of times during the day an animal is to be fed and the hour of the day food is to be offered. The subject of nutrition is covered more thoroughly on the following pages. The point here is that when an animal is fed is also important, especially for animals with high metabolic rates that require food more frequently.
Policing the area is another “routine” practice. It is especially important on very crowded days, to discourage visitors from teasing or harming the animals, to remove harmful items thrown into exhibits and to explain “no feeding” policies where relevant. While making a routine check of the area a keeper can learn some of the daily habits of the animals, such as nap-taking.
In addition to the morning check of the animals, a keeper should routinely check all animals and units just before leaving for the day, to be sure that:
- all animals are alive and well.
- all units were cleaned and are free of foreign objects.
- all animals were fed and watered properly and hoofed stock has sufficient forage to last until the next day.
- all transfer doors and unit exit doors are properly closed and locked.
- temperature control equipment is properly set or doors are open/closed according to the weather forecast.
- night keepers and/or security are informed of any special concerns they should be aware of regarding the keeper’s unit.
As a final routine practice, during the day, important data should be entered on the zoo’s report form, computer record keeping program, keeper’s notebook and/or personal notebook. If an animal is sick and needs to be checked, an animal is about to give birth or any other condition exists that requires checking on during the night the night keeper and/or security personnel should be given explicit instructions before the day keeper leaves.
While a routine can add to an animal’s sense of security, can help prevent minor problems from becoming major and can be a self-checking practice, care must be taken that the routine is not so set that a sudden change results in a panic reaction from an animal. Extremes are seldom acceptable in any respect.
A properly fed animal helps identify other health problems. If the animal is receiving proper nutrition, other possibilities must be investigated when the animal is sick.
The nutritional requirements of zoo animals vary according to species, age, size and environment. The quality and assortment of food offered must provide sufficient nutrients. The amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and water needed, vary from amphibians, to reptiles, to birds and to mammals. Whether an animal is a carnivore, omnivore, frugivore, insectivore, browser, grazer, primate, ungulate, shrew, elephant, etc. must also be considered. Proper nutrition, according to the
needs of the specific animal, provides energy for structural development, maintenance (heat, repair and replacement of tissue), reproduction and lactation.
Although the keeper is not generally the person determining what diet will be fed to a particular animal, he or she should know what the nutritional requirements are for the animal and why a certain diet is being fed.
Assuming that proper diets have been established, and quality food is available, it becomes the keeper’s duty to see to it that the food quality is maintained in his/her area, that the correct food items and quantities of food are offered according to the animal’s diet, that the food is prepared *properly (shape, size of pieces, temperature, texture and consistency), is offered to the animal in a proper container and fed at the designated time. Frequency of feeding is also very important; some animals require frequent feedings throughout the day. Every effort should be made to simulate the specie’s normal feeding patterns.
*the area of food preparation will vary from zoo to zoo
The subject of zoo animal nutrition is not generally taught in a zoo or academic situation, but the interested keeper can, through selected reading, acquire a basic knowledge of the subject to better tend to the needs of the animals. This is not to suggest that the keeper should become a nutritionist or adjust diets without approval; it means the keeper needs to know enough about the animal’s nutritional needs, and the zoo’s operations, to do a good job. A zoo should have a protocol for adjusting diets as needed (i.e. seasonal, reproduction, geriatric) and should include input from the keeper, area supervisor, nutritionist and veterinarian. Some zoos have a form that a keeper can initiate requesting a diet change. A keeper should promptly inform and/or discuss any diet changes or modifications that occur due to an animal’s appetite, age or condition. If it’s zoo policy, a keeper may have to relay such information up through a chain of command.
Examples of animals’ changing nutritional requirements according reproduction, social conditions, lactation, growth age and season are:
- a herd male has increased energy needs during breeding season.
- a pregnant female has a need for additional nutrients, especially during the last third of pregnancy.
- a lactating female has an even greater need for adequate nutrients in a diet.
- quantity, the consistency of food and the frequency of feeding change as an animal grows.
This can apply to the composition of both the milk and solids.
- crowding or social dominance can cause nutritional problems in subordinate animals.
- a highly stressed animal has increased nutritional needs.
- an inactive animal may have a subnormal nutritional requirement.
- problems of poor nutrition will show up faster in young animals.
- animals require additional nutrients during cold weather to maintain body heat and condition.
- poorly fed animals may not reproduce or deficiencies’ may become evident in their offspring.
Even when the nutritional requirements are known, there can be variations in the needs of two animals of the same species with the same basic nutritional needs. Some animals are “easy keepers” or sometimes referred to as “thrifty” and simply require fewer nutrients to remain in good condition. Conversely, there are also problem animals that in spite of being fed a balanced diet in adequate amounts are “unthrifty”, and always appear to be in subnormal condition.
An animal should have access to fresh, clean water. Water is vital to the functions of the body and metabolism of nutrients. It helps regulate body temperature, is important to the absorption and transportation of nutrients, it serves as a medium for chemical reaction in tissue cells and it helps carry off body wastes.
In addition to providing essential nutrients, a balanced diet should ensure employment of the teeth and digestive organs in such a way as to keep them healthy. Food also provides occupation and contentment for captive animals. According to Hediger (1964) “The animal doesn’t not simply eat; it takes its food in a very definite way, usually at a definite time as well.” He also makes mention of the search, recognition, grasping, chewing, swallowing, etc. of food, and that some animals need to feed continuously while others only occasionally.
Another factor is psychological stress. “The intake of sufficient food is not enough; the best conditions for digestion should be present.” (Hediger 1964). In reference to an animal’s flight tendency, Hediger states “Even the best food will not be taken by the animal if it has a flight tendency and if the food presented is less than the flight distance away from man.” …or other intimidating factors.
Keepers should also keep in mind what the animal’s normal activity pattern is – diurnal, crepuscular or nocturnal. If, for example, a nocturnal animal is given food early in the day, there could be spoilage problems in the heat of summer, the food could be carried off by birds or rodents, or the food might freeze solid in the winter.
A cause of digestive problems in zoo animals can be poor quality food. “There is a mistaken notion, impossible to eradicate, that tainted food no longer fit for human consumption can be eaten by animals without harm. Mouldy bread, spoiled vegetable refuse, and rotten food cause just as serious disturbances in health to animals as to man.” (Hediger 1964). Food quality is maintained by properly storing and using foods according to the shelf life of food items. All foods should be rotated at the point of delivery and in each area, the oldest items being used first. Using good judgment in discarding unpalatable or rotten portions of food should be done with care taken not to waste good food.
Moisture and pests are both problems to avoid in storing grains; proper containers are helpful but only if they are used properly. A keeper can be instrumental in maintaining food quality in his/her area by such practices. A good rule of thumb is to treat the food and preparation of it as if it is to be consumed by oneself.
When feeding animals donated from laboratories, etc., careful checking should be done for metal tags, clips or dyes. The source of the donation and how the animals were used MUST be known; take no chances. Care must also be exercised in using animals that die around the zoo as food for carnivores. The question “what did it die from” must be kept in mind, and the decision to use the animal as food made by the zoo veterinarian. This practice has diminished in zoos over the decades but is still practiced by some zoos.
All surfaces and containers used for food and water should be kept clean. Hay should be fed in a bunker if possible, not from the ground or floor of a stall; all hay should be shaken and fluffed to locate any foreign objects. Brushes for cleaning food and water containers should be labeled as to their intended use and not used for other purposes such as scrubbing floors, walls, etc.. Water buckets should be labeled “for clean water only” and used accordingly. If animals with health problems are kept in the same area as healthy animals it is especially important that their food and water containers are used for them exclusively and not mistakenly used to feed or water other animals.
Public feeding of animals is a problem in some zoos. In a survey of children’s zoos (Schneider 1975-
76) 67% reported allowing the public feeding of the animals. It stated that this coincided with a trend in zoos to abolish public feeding throughout the zoo. It is felt that in a carefully monitored children’s zoo area, some control can be exercised in which animals are fed, what kinds of food are offered and how much food the animals are receiving. It must be kept in mind however, that zoo visitors may not restrict themselves to feeding only children’s zoo animals and may attempt to feed other animals in the zoo regardless of signs, and policies, stating no feeding. It is hoped that over the past three decades, public feeding has lessened considerably. Most public feeding is now limited to over-feeding animals in roadside zoos and farm animals in some public, or private zoos.
Other problems of public feeding are that the type and quantity of food can be harmful to the animal, and it encourages begging behavior. An animal that’s obviously begging for food can cause an uneducated or ill-intended visitor to feed the animal unsuitable food or other ‘items”. Zoo animals are not always discriminating in what they take into their systems resulting in such problems as “hardware disease” as previously mentioned.
In the introduction to the results of a survey on “Public Feeding of Zoo Animals”, Wilson (1976) stated that whether public feeding was beneficial or detrimental to the public, the staff and the animals, was a matter of individual interpretation. The survey also gave pros and cons regarding the practice of public feeding. Of 54 zoos responding to the survey, 31 stated they did allow public feeding. In answer to the question “should public feeding be allowed?” 25 responded yes, indicating some were allowing the practice of public feeding contrary to the attitudes of the survey respondents. Although this practice has diminished, somewhat, over the decades there is a new trend in the public feeding of zoo animals. For example, scheduled feeding of giraffes, for a fee, and feeding budgies millet on a stick (@ $1.00/stick) is now taking place.
Whatever the practice of the zoo, the potential hazard to the animals’ health cannot be overlooked; whether it’s from eating the wrong food, an imbalanced diet, and non-food items or from becoming obese. It has been said that a well-fed animal is less susceptible to trash foods, and perhaps so. But, much depends on the species of animal being fed. Keepers should know of the ramifications of the public feeding of zoo animals, the policy of the zoo he/she is working at, carefully monitor the animals’ health, and act accordingly when problems occur.
The use of vitamin and mineral supplements in the diets of zoo animals has been one of the important advances in zoo animal husbandry. Over the years, some animals difficult or impossible to keep have become common in zoos and are even reproducing. Most commercial diets contain vitamins and minerals in proper ratios. When feeding a natural diet, supplements can make up for poor quality feeds and hay deficient in one or more vitamins and/or minerals. For example, keepers should be able to recognize poor quality hay, know of the need to supplement phosphorous–rich red meat and understand the need for thiamine supplement when feeding certain species of dead fish. Not only is it necessary to
know when supplementation is needed, but “how much” is required by a particular species must be known also. An example of this is that marmosets require ten times more vitamin D than do squirrel monkeys. It must also be realized that hypervitaminosis of vitamin D can result in death. A keeper should not only follow instructions on the usage of vitamin and mineral supplements carefully, but also learn why they are needed and what problems can occur if not used properly, in sufficient amounts. The keeper should also be sure that the supplement reaches the animal(s) it is intended for. Hand-feeding can be a useful technique to accomplish this with some animals. Supplemented food should be offered first, when the animal is hungriest. When a group of animals is being fed, such as hoofed-stock, supplements must be thoroughly mixed into the feed, rather than just sprinkled on top, to prevent one or two animals from eating all of it.
Trace mineral salt blocks should be available ad lib for some species. The blocks should be kept out of the rain if possible, to prevent them from eroding.
Feeding the right quantities of food according to the needs of individual animals means being careful not too over-feed as well as under-feed. Obese animals are not “healthy” animals; obesity can impact reproduction. Careful observation (from a distance so as not to disturb the animal) will help to determine an animal’s eating habits and to identify any problems.
In the event diets need modification (increase or decrease in quantity), it is important that the actual amount being offered, and consumed is, known. With this in mind, keepers should not feed according to “a handful,” “a pinch”, or by “eyeballing” quantities, but should use weights and measures.
How to prepare food according to individual needs and where to place it can vary; to some animals it doesn’t make much difference; to others it may determine whether not they eat properly. An example of food preparation is the animal that rejects pieces of orange with rind left on but accepts them readily if the rind is removed.
A shy animal, even though very hungry, may refuse food unless it can feel secure while eating. Food placed in the hot sun or rain can soon become unacceptable to an animal. Another feeding technique a keeper should be aware of is the number of containers of food offered in reference to the number and social behavior of the animals in a unit. Serious confrontations can occur during competition for food or an especially subordinate animal can be kept away from the food altogether. The right number of feeding containers, adequately spaced, might be a solution in such problems, or it may be necessary to separate animals during feeding time.
In summary, while a keeper seldom decides what diet an animal will be fed, he/she can make a difference in how the food is stored in the area, how it is prepared, how the feeding is done, how well an animal consumes its food and when and how a change in diet is made. The keeper should be the first person aware of the need to change a diet according to the season, a growing animal, etc. and promptly communicate this information to the person(s) authorized to make diet changes. Changing diets gradually is best to avoid upsetting the animal’s digestive system.
There are a dozen basic rules a keeper can use as guidelines to animal nutrition.
1. Know what and how much to feed. Under-fed animals are more susceptible to disease. Over- fed animals may have health problems due to obesity, problems in reproduction, or to the extreme such as founder in equines.
2. Know the proper size food should be offered in. “Usually” the smaller the animal the smaller the pieces of food should be. But, there is occupational value in varying the sizes and shapes of food, too. What we used to call “occupation” is now often referred to as “enrichment”.
3. Know the difference between forages (grass hays/ legumes) and feeds.
4. Feed at scheduled times and according to the animal’s feeding patterns. Frequency of feeding must also be followed.
5. Do not feed spoiled foods.
6. Do not feed moldy, or dusty, poor quality forage. Be on guard for a few bad bales even in a good quality stack of hay.
7. Shake forage out, checking for thistle, cactus or foreign objects, before feeding hay.
8. If food is rejected, find out why! - too hot to eat, spoiled food, sick animal?
9. Make sure all animals in a group get their fair share of food, water, vitamin/mineral supplements and, when necessary, medication.
10. Keep food and water containers clean.
11. Observe, record, report and act accordingly regarding any changes in diet.
12. Ask questions when in doubt.
A keeper should be aware of the many forms of disease that can affect zoo animals. It would also be helpful to know that diseases are classified by their cause. They can be:
- genetic (deformities, breeding problems).
- caused by lower plants or animals (bacteria, viruses, parasites, insects, mycoses).
- intoxication (chemical, plant, animal, microbiological).
- trauma (disturbance of tissues, broken bones, cuts, tears, punctures, lameness).
- secondary conditions ( disturbances of the circulatory system, innervations).
- static mechanical abnormality (gastrointestinal obstructions, twisted intestines, inception, telescoping of the intestine).
- metabolic or nutritional (milk fever, deficiencies and excesses).
- undetermined causes
The degree of sickness can be affected by the point of contact (rabies, head or facial bite more serious than a bite in the extremities), the age of the animal (young and old more susceptible), the species of the animal (equine encephalitis is not transmittable to bovine), genetic individualism, general state of health (other conditions present?), nutritional state, and climatic or seasonal conditions.
It is not necessary for a keeper to understand all of the causes and degrees of disease, that’s the veterinarian’s responsibility, However, knowing about the variations and complexities of disease and the disease process will help the keeper better understand the problems associated with zoo animal medicine.
It is also beneficial to be aware of the various ways diseases are transmitted. How a disease organism is liberated from a sick animal, how it enters the host (ingestion, injection or respiration) and how it enters tissue, causing sickness and discomfort, vary. Disease can be transmitted by contact with fecal matter, exposure to a diseased animal (including people), by way of air-borne organisms, fomites (inanimate carriers such as boots, buckets, and tools), vectors (living disease carriers such as insects and bats), through bites and scratches received from infected animals, and through venereal or vertical (dam to offspring) routes. Knowing how disease can be transmitted is necessary for the keeper to realize how he/she can take precautions against being a link in disease transmission.
“A zoo veterinarian can’t possibly accomplish much without keeper cooperation. Most zoos are just too big for any one person to know what is going on with each animal. The keepers are the eyes and ears of the veterinarian, and when they suspect a problem with one of their charges they must report it with as much detail as possible.” (Porter 1975). The history of a sick animal is important to any diagnosis. Porter gives eleven signs of disease and noteworthy characteristics to be used by keepers as guidelines of what to look for and what a veterinarian may consider significant. Porter also states “that any one sign by itself may be normal for a specific animal, but all should be noted either mentally or on paper.” In addition to the overall appearance of the animal, head/tail carriage, etc. the following characteristics should be looked for:
1. Change in behavior – a quiet animal becomes vicious, or an active animal listless, depressed, collapsing, pain, convulsions or fits add, are immediate causes of concern.
2. Change in defecation – diarrhea, foul odor, white specks or blood present; increase or decrease in frequency or amount, foreign object present, straining.
3. Change in urination – increase or decrease in frequency or amount; absence of urine; presence of blood or pus; straining to urinate.
4. Discharges – from eye, nose, vulva, penis, anus; amount, color, consistency and odor are very important.
5. Coughing sneezing, gagging – how often and how much.
6. Limping or refusal to rise – which leg?
7. Change in appetite or water consumption – eating less or not at all. No interest in food. Drinking more water.
8. Lumps and bumps – size, location, rate of growth.
9. Change in appearance – loss of hair, feathers, etc., dull coat, losing or gaining weight suddenly.
10. Shortness of breath, tires easily.
11. Regurgitation or vomiting – does it occur in relation to eating; how much, what’s present?
“Who, what, when, where, how often and how much are as important to the veterinarian as they are to the journalist.” (Porter 1975).
Early symptoms of a disease can be so subtle that they go undetected such as those of a low grade or chronic condition. Often by the time the disease process has reached the acute stage, and the symptoms are strongly evident, the animal is in serious condition. At that point the trauma of treatment can be as fatal as no treatment at all. Prophylaxis and the early detection of disease can be aided by an observant keeper and the cooperation of all persons involved with the health care of the zoo’s animals.
Keepers can make a difference in parasite and pest control programs, the effectiveness of quarantine procedures and the transmission of zoonotic diseases.
Parasite and pest control should be a continuing, on-going program in which the problems are identified and eliminated. Through management practices and the use of regular fecal examinations parasites can be kept at minimum levels or eradicated. Pest control methods vary according to the species in question. A zoo should have a pest control program which includes the knowledgeable use of pesticides, vermifuges, traps and deterrents such as electrified fences. Keepers must be involved in any pest control concerning animal areas.
Fecal examination should take place on a regular basis to prevent build-up of parasites in the host animal. When parasites are detected, treatment must be carried out according to the specific instructions of the veterinarian with repeat dosages administered on schedule to complete the worming process. The keeper’s role will vary according to the policy of the zoo he/she is employed at. Observing the condition of stools and being alert for evidence of worms should be an automatic part of a keeper’s work. A keeper’s physical role in parasite control is generally to collect the fecal sample and see that it’s promptly delivered to the person(s) responsible for examining the sample. Or, it might include assisting the veterinarian in giving the medication. Treatment for endo-parasites is usually by injection, or given orally, and the keeper should be involved in helping with administering the medication. When ecto-parasites are the problem, the keeper’s involvement will probably include applying a powder or spray and removing the insects.
Through proper food storage and sanitation practices, many pests can be avoided or kept at minimum levels. When pests, (rats, mice, roaches) become a problem, they must be eradicated with intensive and sustained efforts, but with utmost caution for the safety of the animals, zoo visitors and zoo personnel. Insecticides and pesticides must be used according to instructions and care must be taken that there are not secondary victims. Containers used for insecticides or pesticides should not be used for food or water containers later on. The preparation (mixing or filling containers) of pesticides should not be done on a food preparation surface (or area). Unused sprays and/or poisons must be disposed of properly. If they are to be stored, they must be properly labeled as poisons and stored in a safe, non-food, non- animal area. Traps for rodents should be used carefully and placed so they could not be accidentally tripped by unintended victims.
When quarantine procedures are in effect due to the arrival of a new animal, or in the case of a sick animal, to prevent further spread of disease, a keeper should know exactly what procedures are to be carried out. Instructions should be in writing to prevent the possibility of information being misunderstood or passed on incorrectly. When new animals are in quarantine, keepers should be on the lookout for signs of fleas, ticks, mites and worms. It is also the time during which a new animal adjusts to different food and water. Quarantine time can give the newly arrived animal time to rebuild its strength and offset effects of the stress of having been shipped, before being introduced to an exhibit or other animals. A word of caution….do not add to the stress of an animal in quarantine! Be aware of what’s affecting the animal and work with the animal; don’t impose changes that add to its stress level. It’s been said that it takes humans 30 days to adjust to a change or new situation…..should we not expect that animals have the same needs? Again, work with the animal, not against it. Training an animal in quarantine is questionable and should be given serious, careful thought before commencing. When quarantine is in force due to disease, a keeper should always be aware of the possibility of transmitting disease organisms if proper procedures are not followed.
Zoonoses – infections or diseases that are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man. These include bacterial, viral, fungal, protozoic and parasitic diseases. Some of the more commonly referred to zoonotic diseases are tuberculosis, rabies, salmonella and tetanus. Herpes infection, pox, polio, brucellosis, leptospirosis and ringworm are a few of the other “hidden hazards”. A case of strongyloidiasis in a keeper was reported. As a minimum precaution against acquiring parasites or other diseases, keepers should always wash their hands thoroughly after working with animals and before eating or drinking. It should also be noted that cigarettes can serve as a vector in disease transmission. Keepers should also take care not to transmit disease to the animals in his/her keep, especially in the case of primates, which are susceptible to respiratory and influenza-like sickness.
Injuries and illness can result from several causes other than living organisms. Accidents, natural disasters, mismanagement, problems with zoo visitors, vandals, toxic elements, sudden stress, escapes and problems during capture and restraint are other possibilities. Preparedness and prevention can eliminate many problems or minimize the trauma suffered. “The name of the game in good animal husbandry is prevention, and it is a game keepers can play as well as anyone.” (Stoskopf 1976). In the event of fire, or natural disaster such as a severe storm, tornado or flood, knowing the right procedures, location of equipment and acting promptly can reduce injuries. Anticipating problems and being aware of developing problems, such as signs of increasing stress, and removing the cause of the problem, may keep a hyper-tense animal from running into a fence or from trying to jump it, for example. If an unusual, hazardous situation has occurred, it can be expected to happen again. – perhaps not for some time, but not taking precautions to safe-guard against recurrence of a “freak” accident could result in the death of an
animal. Examples of conditions that could be fatal are: an animal getting hung up on bars, a fence or caught while trying to squeeze through an opening; fighting between competitive males or between aggressive animals; inquisitive tongues, paws or legs. Tails sticking through openings into other units can be bitten or torn off, sometimes resulting in the death of the victim. Protective barriers must be carefully constructed to protect animals from other animals as well as from the public.
Negligence, forgetfulness, thoughtlessness, cruelty, lack of understanding of an animal’s behavior, over- confidence on the part of a keeper and not following procedures are the causes of most accidents (Henry
Doorly Zoo Keeper’s Manual). Other management problems to consider are: improper perches for birds, resulting in foot problems; seasonal considerations (flies/summer, extra bedding/winter); whitening glass on the front of exhibits so new birds can see it; carefully observing animals when moats or pools are only half full; not allowing untrained or incompetent personnel to work directly with the animals. Antler or horn removal, primarily on male animals, must be done before an incident, not after trouble has occurred and resulted in injury or death. Shipping animals in proper containers at the best time of the year (spring and fall preferred), and considering the climate at the destination can help prevent health problems. Keepers for the most part are not responsible for the ultimate decisions in many of the above mentioned situations but, in a diplomatic way, should point out potential problems. It is a matter of communication.
Children’s zoos where contact animals are present have reported teasing, maiming, overfeeding, fatigue and poisoning as problems in zoo animal health. (Schneider 1976). Keepers in these areas must be prepared to spend time monitoring, or overseeing volunteers, to prevent these problems. It may be necessary to let other work wait while monitoring an area on especially busy days. Monitors must be on guard against the stealing of eggs or small animals, too. These things seem unlikely, but they do occur!
Toxic materials can be chemical, plant, animal or microbiological. The approach to toxicological problems is: diagnosis, removal of the source of the toxic material, specific treatment based on diagnosis and non-specific and supportive treatment. An immediate preventive measure that comes to mind is the use of non toxic paint (non- lead or titanium base) on all cages. This is especially relevant in monkey, rodent and baby animal areas. There is also the possibility that there are poisonous plants in and around your zoo such as hoofed stock pens or primate moats. The species of plants to look for will depend on the geographical location of the zoo. Some harmful plants are purple nightshade, blue-green algae, hemlock, white snakeroot, loco weed, bracken fern, yew, etc. The time of year, cycle of growth and environmental conditions will affect the toxicity in the plant. Every zoo should have a list of toxic plants that are located in and around the zoo, as well as an approved browse list. The bite of toxic animals (poisonous snakes) or ingesting non-edible animals (toads) can also occur.
Capture and Restraint
Action to be taken when an animal must be caught depends greatly on the nature of the animal. If an escaped animal is timid and likely to stay away from people, the course of action will differ from what a keeper should do if the animal is dangerous, inclined to be aggressive or stand its ground if approached by an uninformed person (zoo visitor). The time of day an escape occurs,
how many zoo visitors are on the grounds, the degree of stress the animal is under and its capabilities must all be given due consideration. Ideally, the animal should be captured and returned to its enclosure with a minimum of stress to the animal, and danger to the zoo public and staff. Most zoos have a procedure to follow regarding animal escapes. A basic procedure would be for a keeper to summon help, if needed, keep the animal in sight, confine it to a yard or certain section of the zoo and clear the area of zoo visitors.
Operant conditioning and training animals to accept various procedures such as weighing, crating, blood drawing and positioning or presenting their bodies for close examination has been a tremendous advancement in zoo animal husbandry. Where feasible, these methods should be incorporated into the routine management of zoo animals. However, there will always be situations where zoo animals will
need to be captured and restrained, with or without drugs. It is imperative that experienced keepers mentor and train new keepers in the proper techniques of capture and restraint according to the species.
The capture and restraint of animals to examine, treat or crate is not without its problems. It’s an area where the inexperienced can add to the problems of all concerned. If asked to help with capturing and crating or moving animals, a keeper should know what it is that needs to be done and how best to do it! Keepers should not experiment with restraint techniques. Methods have been learned for the best way to handle most animals and unless the situation is an emergency, and any help is better than no help, the inexperienced keeper would be wise to carefully observe the procedure and help in minor ways. Personnel involved in animal capture and restraint must “be sensitive to the consequences of every action taken during a procedure.” (Fowler 1975-76).
Generally, the smoothest, least stressful captures have been carefully planned, proper equipment was ready and in good repair, all personnel were aware of their roles and the procedure was carried out promptly and efficiently in a way that best suited the individual animal. There seems to be an unwritten rule that – your first attempt is your best attempt –; if you fail to successfully capture the animal on the first attempt, dynamics change and stress increases proportionately for the animal and staff.
The Safety Manual for Zoo Keepers (Animal Restraint) by Peter Karsten gives several basic safety rules to follow.
- Know and treat animals according to their potential danger.
- Keeper/animal relationships; an animal that can be safely approached by one person may react differently to others.
- Be wary of the tameness of donated pets.
- Know the correct procedure to enter a cage with unsafe animals; make a positive count.
Count what you see, not what you don’t see.
- Operation of animal quarters door and gates should be controlled by one person and must not be opened or closed unless the person in charge of the operation gives an order to do so.
- Anyone operating doors is responsible for the consequences.
- Make every effort to avoid force. Think of ways to move animals smoothly; use trap boxes, shift cages, bait situations, etc.
A good rule to remember is “A safer method for the keeper also means less stress to the animal.” (Karsten 1974).
Also worth remembering are:
- Avoid prolonged stress to the animal being captured as well as to the animals nearby.
- Keep capture equipment out of sight, if possible, until time to use it.
- Avoid capturing two animals in the same net or trap. In their stressed condition they can easily injure one another.
- Once an animal is captured, be sure it’s secure and doesn’t slip the net and have to be re- captured.
- It is best to capture animals at a time of day when there are no, or few, zoo visitors.
- One should never proceed to capture an animal if they feel unsafe, but should get help.
Although it has been stressed that keepers should watch and learn how to properly capture animals, it is also necessary that they TRY IT. Karsten points out the drawbacks of not trying and of allowing the “gifted” handler to do all of the capturing. “The entire staff may come to rely on the ‘gifted’ handler to restrain all difficult species and to make little effort to learn such skills for their own use.”
Diagnosis and Treatment
Once a keeper is aware of a health problem it must be determined if the problem:
- is a critical situation and requires immediate attention.
- should be discussed with supervisors immediately.
- needs attention later.
A keeper, by knowing his/her animals well, should be able to evaluate the seriousness of the problem, know who to notify and proceed accordingly. The keeper must communicate the facts, not elaborations. “Diagnosis and evaluations may be necessary strictly on a keeper’s observations.” (Nall 1972-73). It can also be helpful for the keeper to be in attendance to answer any questions that may arise during the evaluation or examination of an animal. Species, age and sex of the animal, the number of animals that are sick, the onset (sudden or slow) of the illness, management and nutritional practices, the amount of activity, and frequency of observations can all be helpful information for diagnosis.
After diagnosis, treatment is given by the veterinarian or as prescribed. “Medical treatment should never be undertaken without veterinary approval. No matter how well we know our animals, we are not familiar enough with the medical techniques and medications and may do more harm than good in spite of our intentions.” (Lincoln Park Zoo Keepers’ Handbook). In the event a keeper is instructed by the zoo veterinarian to medicate an animal, he/she must know:
- the dosage and how often to medicate.
- the route for administering medication.
(per os – oral, ID – intradermal, subQ – subcutaneous, IM – intramuscular, etc.).
- medication must be given “on time”.
Additionally, the keeper should observe the amount of medication ingested if given with food, and watch for the effects of the medication as well as unexpected side-effects. The dosage, time administered and the initials of the keeper should be recorded on some sort of record, such as a “veterinary treatment” card. Zoos with an Animal Health Department usually have an in-house form for
use in tracking medication and treatments. Other keepers working in the area, supervisors and the veterinarian should be kept informed of the animal’s condition and progress.
Non-treatment of an animal can be upsetting to zoo personnel but may be the best route to take for the animal’s sake. The veterinarian is trained in disease control, sanitation and in the treatment of sickness or injuries, the total medical care of the animal, and should be in the best position to make the decision of when and how to treat the animal. Experienced keepers who know their animals well can be an important benefit in the diagnosis and, especially, the treatment. When administering oral medication, it is often necessary to use a food item. Keepers should be consulted to help determine the best way to accomplish this task which will vary by species and between individuals. Teamwork in diagnosing and treating animals will facilitate helping an animal in need.
A difficult decision is when to euthanize an animal rather than treat it and cause it needless pain and suffering. This applies to all concerned: to staff members who might have difficulty letting go and the veterinarian who might want to go to excessive measure to treat the animal. What’s best for the animal must be kept in mind.
“Routine necropsies of all animals which die provide basic information as well as answers to specific problems.” (Farnsworth 1974).
Valuable information can be gained from necropsy which can aid in preventive medicine. It is the “last chance to gather information on the zoo’s most valuable asset; the animals” (Stoskopf 1975).
Again, it is important for the keeper to provide the veterinarian with as much history as possible. Upon discovering a dead animal, a keeper should note the position of the carcass (is it on its side, head turned, part of body caught, near fence, middle of yard??). Any circumstance that might have some bearing on the death and the suspected cause of death should be reported. Supervisors should be advised immediately and the carcass cooled down as soon as possible. Freezing can destroy tissue needed for microscopic study and kills bacteria; the veterinarian should be asked if the carcass should be kept cool or frozen, according to Stoskopf (1975).
Some zoos have a necropsy form and a set protocol regarding bringing carcasses for necropsy. The date, time of death (if known), weight, sex, house ID and general comments are all important to record.
The next matter of immediate importance is to determine the possibility of another animal suffering the same fate in the event death was caused by mechanical, exhibit design or social problems. Action must be taken to prevent further occurrence.
The effectiveness of a keeper’s role in a zoo’s animal health program is dependent upon many factors.
Attitude – the keeper’s, zoo management’s and the veterinarian’s.
Awareness – of the procedures and policies of the zoo’s animal health program and, especially, the needs of the individual animal.
Prevention - of problems due to being uninformed, improper techniques and practices, poor nutrition, of improper use of tools, equipment and lack of upkeep of exhibits and other facilities.
Observation - of the animals and anything that either directly or indirectly affects them. Communications – between all persons concerned with zoo animal health.
Cooperation - accepting the roles of others, and recording valuable information for their use and future reference.
The administration (Director et al), the Veterinarian and the Keeper share a common goal – the health of the zoo’s animals. All concerned should work toward “…an understanding and communication on the evaluation of the health and welfare of each animal in the Zoo. Let us allow each of these three groups of trained personnel to make his contribution to the preservation of our Zoo animals. Dedication and motivation are the rewards of participation.” (Nall 1972-73).
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Anon. (undated) Zoo Keeper Manual. Henry Doorly Zoo
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Beveridge, W.I.B.. 1957. The Art of Scientific Investigation. Norton Company, New York. Farnsworth, Ralph, J., DVM. 1974. Personal communication.
Fowler, Murray E., DVM 1975-76. “Causes of Death During Restraint Procedures.” AAZPA Regional Conference Proceedings. pp263-269.
Hediger, H. 1964. Wild Animals in Captivity. Dover Publications, New York.
…… 1968 The Psychology and Behaviour of Animals in Zoos and Circuses. Dover Publications. New York
…… 1969. Man and Animal in the Zoo. Dover Publications. New York.
Karsten, Peter. 1974. Safety Manual for Zookeepers (Animal Restraint), Calgary Zoo, Alberta, Canada Merriam-Webster. 2005. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. Springfield MA.
Nall, John D., DVM. 1972-73. “Communications in a Zoo”, American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference Proceedings, AAZV. pp 319-321.
Peel, Robert. 1975. “Keeper Involvement in Zoo Records”, The Keeper. American Association of Zoo Keepers. pp 7-8
Porter, Stu, DVM. 1975. “Of Veterinarians and Zoo Keepers (Cooperation and Observation)”, Animal Keepers’ Forum. II(7):3.
Sammarco, Pat (et al) 1977. Lincoln Park Zoo Keepers; Training Handbook. Lincoln Park Zoo AAZK Chapter.
Schneider, Gail. 1975-76. Children’s Zoo Survey Summary with Annotations. American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.
Stoskopf, Mike DVM. 1975 “Of Veterinarians and Keepers”, Animal Keepers’ Forum. II(2):3.
….. 1975. “Of Veterinarians and Keepers” (The Necropsy), Animal Keepers’ Forum. II(11):7.
….. 1976. “Of Veterinarians and Keepers”, Animal Keepers’ Forum. III(8):99-100. Wilson, Charles, G (undated) Public Feeding of Zoo Animals Survey Results.