Dickerson Parks Zoo's Animal Hospital

Dickerson Park Zoo’s Animal Hospital provides outstanding and compassionate medical care for all the zoo’s animals.

Dickerson Park Zoo’s Animal Hospital provides outstanding and compassionate medical care for all the zoo’s animals. From the smallest reptile to the largest mammal, the veterinary staff is dedicated to the health and wellness of all of the animals.

The hospital includes a laboratory, two separate quarantine buildings, a state-of-the-art radiology suite, a surgery suite, treatment room, a pharmacy and an autopsy area.

Preventive medicine and proper nutrition are key elements to good health care, and Annual Wellness Exams help the veterinary staff detect and treat problems in early stages. Exams are much like what humans might experience at a routine checkup: review of diet, weight, visual evaluation, vaccinations, blood draw and lab work to check for infection or signs of organ dysfunction.

Fecal exams are performed two to four times a year to screen for parasites and anti-parasitic drugs are given as needed.

Although the veterinary staff spends hours performing preventive care and researching to improve procedures and technologies, animals still get ill.

Zoo keepers are a great asset to the veterinary staff. Zoo keepers spend a great deal of time with the animals and become very perceptive of behavior patterns, appetite and favorite foods. The zoo keepers often notice subtle changes and report any inconsistencies to the veterinary staff.

Even with the tiniest patient, animal care at Dickerson Park Zoo is a big responsibility.

Dickerson Park Zoo’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program

Dickerson Park Zoo is committed to conservation and rehabilitation efforts.

As a wildlife rehabilitation center, Dickerson Park Zoo cares for many animals requiring treatment in order to survive on their own. Some patients are healthy youngsters separated or orphaned from their parents, and simply need a correct diet and attention until acquiring the skills necessary to survive on their own.
Adult animals brought to Dickerson Park Zoo’s rehabilitation program are usually ill or injured. Treatment may include: medication, wound care and occasionally surgery.

All animals in the wildlife rehabilitation program receive feeding, housing and exercise until fully recovered. When an animal has fully recovered, or is old enough to care for itself, it is released back into its natural habitat. The veterinary staff evaluates each animal to make certain it is physically and behaviorally ready for release. Animals must be able to find their natural foods, know how to behave with others of their kind and be wary of people. An important part of our rehabilitation efforts is to keep the animals wild. While providing medical care, we try to prevent the animals from becoming comfortable with people, because we want them to have the best chance of survival when released.

You too play a vital role in wildlife rehabilitation. An easy place to start is by becoming more aware of the wildlife around you. It is also important to understand how human activities such as hunting with lead shot, fishing with lead weights or not recycling can cause serious problems for animals. Then, as you become more aware of what you can do to help, share what you’ve learned with others.

Everyone has a role and can do their part in wildlife rehabilitation.

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Dickerson Park Zoo Research

Effects of Lueprolide as a Reversible Contraceptive in Male Red Kangaroos.

This study conducted by DPZ South America keepers with veterinary support (Ken Harmon, Erica Lipanovich, John Rainford, Sheila Samek and Patti Rader) is designed to conduct trials of lueprolide injections in male Red Kangaroos. Study objectives are to temporarily sterilize male kangaroos with a reversible effect. Behavioral analysis will also be conducted during periods of temporary sterilization to determine if lueprolide reduces aggression in the male.


Contraception of lionesses utilizing deslorelin implants.

This ongoing study is conducted by Dr. Sally Beutelle and Mary Agnew of the AZA Wildlife Contraception Center (St. Louis Zoo) in conjunction with DPZ Africa keepers. The study design follows deslorelin blood levels in the female lioness after deslorelin implantation to assess efficacy and therapeutic levels.


Uterine pathology in North American River Otter.

This cooperative study between the St. Louis Zoo, Seneca Park Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and the Newport Aquarium (Karen Bauman and Cheryl Asa, David Hamilton, Dusty Lombardi and Sarah Duncan respectively) is investigating the high prevalence of endometrial hyperplasia in otters. Necropsy reports or reproductive tracts are submitted to the Reproductive Health Surveillance Program established by Dr. Linda Munson, and now run by Drs. Dalen Agnew and Anneke Moresco. DPZ incurred no financial cost, only the submission of samples.


Evaluation of fecal markers for gastrointestinal disease in the Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus)

The captive Maned Wolf suffers from urinary and gastrointestinal diseases and this may be associated with captive diets. This shy species is does not handle the stress of capture well and therefore a non-invasive means to evaluate these conditions would be useful. This study will attempt to develop a system to evaluate and monitor gastrointestinal disease in Maned Wolves using a non-invasive fecal assay. Marisa Bezjian, Elizabeth Hammond (Lion Country Safari, FL) and Jorg Steiner (Gastrointestinal Laboratory, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, Texas A&M University) are investigating this fatal problem in captive Maned Wolves with the cooperation of AZA Zoo’s including DPZ.


Serum endocrine analysis to determine estrous patterns and pregnancy in the female Malayan tiger.

The captive tiger reproductive rate is declining and the Tiger SSP has called for an increase in scientific investigation into the cause. Recently, the Tiger SSP has requested that all institutions housing tigers begin collecting and shipping fecal samples to a central location for reproductive hormone monitoring. These samples will be utilized to develop a database of tiger information to analyze for correlates to the declining reproduction. While this study will presumably present an overall picture of the tiger populations’ reproductive status, it lacks the timely information to reproductively manage the tigers currently in our care with an approved breeding recommendation. DPZ staff proposes a serum collection protocol with in-house sample analysis paired with a behavioral ethogram to effectively manage the reproduction of its’ Malayan tigers.


Impact of aging on endocrine function in Asian elephants: Do elephants experience menopause?

This study investigates the reproductive hormonal aging of female Asian elephants. The investigators Mike Connolly and Dr. Janine Brown (Tulsa Zoo and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute) have partnered with Dickerson Park Zoo to provide samples and data for the study. This study is important for reproductive planning within the elephant SSP population to properly assess and set guidelines for breeding and other health issues associated with reproductive aging.


Evaluation of progesterone and LH concentrations in female Asian Elephants.

The goal of this project is to continue to expand the database of reproductive hormone levels on individual animals in an effort to monitor their reproductive status, health and to implement natural and assisted reproduction. As hormone monitoring is required by AZA for the reproductive evaluation of female elephants this project will continue indefinitely. These assays have provided invaluable information and have been published in scientific journals. Project conducted by DPZ elephant staff.

IMLS Elephant Welfare Study

In 2012 the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services with the Honolulu Zoo serving as principal investigator embarked on what will be the most comprehensive and collaborative study on elephant welfare in zoos to date.

The seven partner institutions investigating will use the $816,000 National Leadership grant from IMLS to collect and integrate a wide spectrum of behavioral, health and well-being measures of the nearly 290 Asian and African elephants in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The science-based study will evaluate elephant welfare along a quality continuum, assessing the impact of zoo management practices by looking at the elephants’ responses to differences in practices among zoos. When complete, the study will provide zoos around the world with information that will contribute to their ongoing efforts to ensure elephant well-being. The three-year study began December 1st, 2011 with sample collection to be completed in 2013.

Dickerson Park Zoo is one of a small number of zoos that completed every aspect of the study including blood and fecal sampling, elephant keeper surveys, behavioral surveys on the elephants, in-depth monthly elephant management logs, GPS tracking for spatial movement study, extensive filming over two seasons for behavioral study, body scoring analysis with photos, overnight surveillance videotaping, physical exams with measurements, archived health records and an elephant manager survey. While this study did not cost Dickerson Park Zoo financially, it was a significant commitment in time and effort on the part of the elephant and hospital staff to aid researchers in improving the quality of care of our elephants.


Research and development of modifications to medical equipment used in the examination of the female elephant reproductive tract.

This project of the DPZ elephant staff (John Bradford, Dr. Melissa Dickson, Jackson Thompson and Lee Hart) developed a new catheter to use in conjunction with a modified endoscope to improve examination of reproductive tracts of female elephants for artificial insemination and treatment of pathology. These modifications have since allowed staff to access the female elephant’s reproductive tract to the uterine horns for assessment and artificial insemination. The novel design of the catheter has allowed visualization, biopsy, treatment and follow-up examination of the cervix on one of the female elephants and diagnosis of pathology in other females. Future reproductive examinations are slated for spring/summer of 2013 (as per AZA guidelines) with resultant completion of this study.


Descriptive ultrasonography of the reproductive tract among female Asian elephants of varying ages and reproductive status.

The goal of this project conducted by DPZ elephant staff (Dr. Melissa Dickson, John Bradford, Lee Hart and Jackson Thompson) is to develop a pictorial guide of elephants’ reproductive tracts with varying reproductive states, ages and health status. Reproductive examinations slated for 2013 will provide follow-up images for completion of this study.


Analysis of female Asian elephant prolactin levels.

This project was initiated after observing anomalies in the reproductive pattern of three female elephants housed at DPZ. This research study supplements the previous prolactin study conducted by DPZ elephant staff and will aid in the diagnosis of these reproductive irregularities. This study will be conducted by DPZ elephant staff in conjunction with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal Virginia.


Investigation into correlations between age and homocysteine levels in Asian elephants.

The objectives of this study are to: 1) establish normal concentrations of serum water soluble B vitamins in healthy Asian elephants and 2) examine the effects of clinical treatment of tuberculosis in elephants with isoniazid on serum B vitamins and 3) examine the effects of clinical treatment of tuberculosis in elephants supplemented with pyridoxine. The current recommended guidelines for isoniazid treatment for tuberculosis in elephants are to supplement with pyridoxine at 1mg/kg. These recommendations are based on observed human side effects during isoniazid treatment which include neuropathies, irritability, seizures, insomnia and overall weakness. These are also common side effects noted in elephants while undergoing tuberculosis therapy. However pyridoxine toxicity can occur with over supplementation. Toxic side effects from pyridoxine are similar to those observed in pyridoxine deficiencies. As tuberculosis therapy is expensive, stressful and time consuming, the supplementation of pyridoxine may not be necessary and potentially deleterious to the patient. Although normal serum concentrations of fat soluble vitamins have been well documented for elephants, little information is known about normal serum B vitamin concentrations. Microbial fermentation in hindgut fermenters produces B vitamins for absorption but little information is available to adequately define normal serum B vitamin concentrations. We propose that normal baseline serum concentrations of B vitamins such as folate, homocysteine, pyridoxine and thiamin be established for healthy Asian elephant species. Study to be conducted by Dr. Erica Lipanovich, Dr. Terry Engle and DPZ elephant staff.

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