The Minnesota Zoo strives to provide excellent care for our animals. It is very important for zoo staff to continuously monitor the healthy animals, as well the not so healthy animals. This is why the Minnesota Zoo’s veterinary practice is broken into two categories: preventative health and managing illness. By focusing heavily on preventative health, we hope to have fewer illnesses to manage here at the Zoo. “I distinctly recall a lecture when I was a veterinary student where the instructor told us we should all strive to eliminate the need for our services. In many ways, that is the goal of preventative medicine,” said Rachel Thompson, DVM.
Routine health exams and checkups are used to monitor the general health of the animals. Our veterinarians examine the animals on a regular basis, collect samples to screen for disease, administer vaccinations and parasite control to contribute to the overall well-being of the individual animal. They also take radiographs and collect ultrasound images so we have baseline data for comparison if an animal becomes ill in the future. Another effort zoo veterinarians and zookeepers practice is provide prenatal care and support breeding programs. During these routine exams, they typically collect blood for health screening. Sometimes a little extra blood, urine, or hair is collected and stored so it can be used by researchers who are studying endangered or threatened species, and can contribute to the body of knowledge on a critical population of animals. That data can be compared to data collected in field studies on free ranging wildlife, or help identify risk factors to prevent disease in managed populations. The animals at the Minnesota Zoo can contribute to research and conservation, even during their routine health examination.
Another component of preventative medicine is pre-shipment examination and quarantine. “If we are planning to receive an animal from another institution, we request a pre-shipment examination and health assessment before they arrive on site,” says Thompson. “This ensures the animal is healthy enough to travel and does not pose any risk to our current collection.” Upon arrival at the Minnesota Zoo, the animal(s) will then complete a period of quarantine. This allows our veterinarians to run additional diagnostics to make sure the animal did not develop a disease during the transport or show signs of subclinical disease. When all health markers have been evaluated and approved, then the animal is moved to its permanent home in the zoo. This process protects the health of the animals that are already at the zoo. It also gives the zoo a chance to get to know the medical history, health status and individual characteristics of the newly acquired animal. That way we are better equipped to provide their long term care in the best possible way.