By Veterinary Director, Dr. Ray Wack, DVM, Dipl. ACZM
At the Sacramento Zoo, leading with animal welfare means we are dedicated to providing the best health care to the animals living in our care. Zookeepers constantly monitor every animal’s behavior, appetite, bodily functions, and more for any subtle changes which are then shared with veterinary staff daily. Just like us, part of the animal’s routine healthcare includes routine physical exams.
Earlier this year, our two Sumatran orangutans Cheli and Makan received their biennial (every other year) physical exams. To ensure that the exams are as stress-free as possible, keepers have trained the orangutans to accept being voluntarily hand injected. In this case, the injection is an anesthetic. Once asleep, they were transported to the Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital at the Sacramento Zoo where the veterinary team conducted a complete physical exam. The exam included a dental check and cleaning, listening to the heart and lungs, palpation of the abdomen, ultrasound, checking all joints for any signs of arthritis, and an ophthalmology exam. Blood samples were collected for complete blood cell counts and serum chemistries, which evaluate the health of the internal organs. Each orangutan received a TB test and given updated vaccinations. Similar to people, great apes (orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas) are susceptible to heart disease, thus cardiac monitoring throughout their life is very important. At each ape exam, a team of veterinary cardiologists from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine come out to the zoo to conduct these specialized heart exams.
The biennial exams revealed that both orangutans are in good health. Cardiac ultrasound results showed that Cheli has some leaky heart valves not uncommon for an elderly ape and that she might benefit from starting some common heart medications, including a beta blocker and ACE inhibitor. All of the data collected during the examinations was submitted to national databases so that our findings can help other orangutans. Cheli and Makan are great examples of the benefits of proactive healthcare at the Sacramento Zoo. At 45, Cheli is celebrating her golden years partly due to the amazing care she receives. At 14, Makan is healthy and in the prime of his youth.
Our partnership between the Sacramento Zoo and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine continues to provide excellent veterinary care to our animals and valuable training opportunities for veterinary students and residents.
Did you know that just by visiting the Sacramento Zoo you are helping us in our global wildlife conservation efforts for animals, including orangutans? But there is more you can do to make a difference in the lives of orangutans! The biggest threat to orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra is habitat loss due to deforestation for Palm oil plantations. Do NOT buy products that contain Palm oil unless you are certain it’s from a sustainable source.