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Oakland Zoo Takes Action for California Condor Recovery

by | April 14th, 2014

On March 25, 2014 young California condor #646 began her journey into the wild. This release was extra special, because, for the first time, a live condor reintroduction was visible to the world on “Condor Cam.” Many thanks to FedEx and Camzone, who helped Oakland Zoo install the camera in such a remote location! Condor #646 joins more than 200 other wild condors that are now able to fly free in the Western skies.

#646 flying out of the pen and into the wild

#646 flying out of the pen and into the wild

While #646’s journey will certainly be miraculous, it will not be without potential perils.  She has already met and been accepted by her flock, and soon thereafter survived adverse rainy and cold weather conditions.  Fortunately, she has yet to meet her most dangerous adversary: lead. Despite a ban on lead ammunition within the range of the California condor that took effect in 2008, lead has continued to poison and kill numerous California condors each year.

This year, however, Oakland Zoo Veterinary and Animal Care staff members are ready to help the condors in their struggle with lead toxicosis. Since 2012, we have worked hard to obtain the necessary permits to house condors, and built and equipped the Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center. Additionally, multiple trips both into the field and to the Los Angeles Zoo to train with biologists and condor keepers have given us the skills necessary to provide state-of-the-art care to sick and injured condors.

Our location in Northern California makes us ideally positioned to treat birds from the Big Sur area of the coast, and the inland area of Pinnacles National Park. This geographical position is likely to be critical to the condors’ survival. Before 2014, every sick condor was transported in a modified dog kennel to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment – an approximately 6 hour drive. Now, driving time (and thus time to beginning treatment) will be reduced to 2-3 hours.

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Oakland Zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Andrea Goodnight treating a condor

When a condor arrives at the Zoo, it undergoes a specific diagnostic and treatment program. An x-ray of each bird is taken to determine if large lead fragments are present and document the locations of the fragments. Every day for 5 days, each condor receives an injection of a chelating agent that binds the lead and carries it out of the bird’s bloodstream. Additionally, the birds are given subcutaneous fluids for supportive care and fed regularly for optimum nutrition. We handle each bird for less than 20 minutes a day in order to minimize stress. After 5 days, a blood sample is drawn to determine the bird’s blood lead level. The birds undergo 5 day rounds of treatment until the blood lead level is below the target value; at that time they are released back into the wild!

We are extremely proud and excited to be part of such an important  conservation effort. Make sure to check out the Zoo’s website often – you may see some of the condors in our treatment facility!

And come to our next Conservation Speaker series event, all about saving the California Condor. Learn how the joint efforts of U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Ventana Wildlife Society, Pinnacles National Park, Oakland Zoo, and other zoos and environmental organizations in the Western U.S. are saving the 218 California condors now soaring in the wild.




Zoo Animal Dentistry – the Team Approach

by | December 3rd, 2010

Dama GazelleWhat does the veterinary team at the Oakland Zoo do when we determine an animal needs a special procedure out of the normal scope of the zoo’s hospital? We get creative!

Throughout the years, our dama gazelle, Bhoke, has been treated successfully at the zoo for multiple dental infections, which are not uncommon for this species. Unfortunately, this summer a tooth root infection in the molars at the back of his lower jaw became unresponsive to our therapy. After consulting with dental specialists at the UC Davis Veterinary School, we determined that Bhoke needed oral surgery.

Oakland Zoo Vet team transports gazelle for surgery.

Easier said than done. The jaws of a ruminant like Bhoke only open a few inches, making it impossible to reach the back teeth except from the outside of the face. Unfortunately, this approach to surgery is complicated by anatomy – we have to navigate around all those wonderful nerves and vessels that make Bhoke’s face and jaw function. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a roadmap of the area?

With today’s medical technology, just such a roadmap is available – in the form of a CT scan. While it is not practical for the zoo to own and operate our own CT scanner, the veterinary school has this technology. Sounds perfect, right? Easier said than done (again). For the two-hour trip to UC Davis, the procedure, and the trip back to the zoo, Bhoke would need to be under anesthesia. By a conservative estimate, Bhoke’s anesthesia time would be at least 6 hours…not to mention if we ran into rush hour Bay Area traffic!

Preparing for CT Scan

Luckily, a closer alternative did exist. Our colleagues at Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital generously donated their CT scanner, technician and veterinary time, and surgical space. So, on Nov 8, the Oakland Zoo veterinary staff, Bhoke the gazelle and the UC Davis dentistry staff became quite possibly the most exotic animals that the Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital staff has ever seen!

The CT scan revealed the extent of Bhoke’s dental disease and unfortunately, revealed a second abscess in his nose of which we were not previously aware. His last molar on the left side of his lower jaw was determined to be too diseased to save and the dentists were able to extract this tooth. We drained the infection from his nose and now have a better idea of the overall health of his teeth.

Since his surgery, Bhoke is making a wonderful recovery. He is back at the zoo, patrolling his exhibit and eating his favorite foods! You may see the evidence of his surgery by the shaved fur on the side of his face. While we know he still has dental problems, we are happy with his progress and hope to successfully manage his teeth for a long time to come!

Dental surgery on gazelle.

About Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital:

Berkeley Dog & Cat Hospital is a well-established, full-service, small animal veterinary hospital providing comprehensive medical, surgical and dental care. We provide a broad spectrum of diagnostic procedures through in-house testing and the use of external laboratories. We also work closely with local practices when special diagnostic procedures are required. The facility includes a well-stocked pharmacy, in-hospital surgery suite, in-house x-ray capabilities, a closely supervised hospitalization area, and indoor boarding kennels with outdoor walking areas.

At Berkeley Dog & Cat Hospital we strive to offer not only sound advice, but also optimal veterinary care, thus allowing you the enjoyment of your companion for a maximum number of years. Our job is not only to treat your pet when he or she isn’t feeling well, but also to help you learn how to keep your best friend happy and healthy. We are proud of what we are doing today, and equally proud of the rich history of over a century of helping animals in Berkeley.

Zoo Population Management

by | December 22nd, 2009

Andrea L. Goodnight, Associate Veterinarian Photo credit: Nancy Filippi

Open space is a prime commodity in almost any society. Who doesn’t like to “get away from it all” by finding a place where peace and quiet rule? At the Oakland Zoo, we strive to provide our animals with spacious enclosures, including areas that allow them to retreat from others. However, even with these spacious exhibits, there isn’t a lot of room for animal families to expand in size. Left unchecked, reproduction could result in overcrowded and unhealthy exhibit environments, decrease genetic diversity, and prevent natural social or family groups from living together. The bottom line is that there’s just not enough room in captivity for all of those animals.

In order to prevent such overpopulation, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) formed a Wildlife Contraception Center in 1989. Based on the recommendations of reproductive physiologists, veterinarians, and animal husbandry experts, this group advises AZA institutions on the best ways, with minimal risk and discomfort for the animals, to prevent overpopulation in their collections. As an AZA accredited facility, the Oakland Zoo benefits from this expertise.

How do we accomplish contraception at the Zoo? Among the many possibilities are oral medications, including feed additives, liquids, or pills that animals consume daily. Some animals are given implants of contraceptives that may last for several years. Many hoofstock receive a vaccination that prevents the female’s eggs from being fertile. All of these methods are reversible, in case future breeding may be warranted. Surgical methods of contraception are also available. We consider these when permanent contraception is necessary or when disease is present in the reproductive organs.

Here are some examples of contraception in place at the Oakland Zoo: all non-breeding female giraffes receive liquid melengestrol acetate daily in a food treat and all non-breeding female chimpanzees receive a daily pill combination of norethindrone and estradiol (a human medication). Both male lions had vasectomies when they were younger. This technique was chosen in order to keep their hormones and male characteristics, including their manes, intact.

Zoo animals are not the only ones at risk of overpopulation. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, millions of unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized each year because there are not enough homes for them. You can make a difference. Surgical contraception, by spay or neuter, not only helps decrease the pet population, but it also benefits each individual animal. When pets are spayed or neutered early in life, aggressive or unwanted behavior due to hormone cycles may be eliminated and the incidence of several types of reproductive cancers almost disappears.

Working together, AZA institutions strive to prevent overpopulation and maintain genetic diversity throughout the animal kingdom. The Oakland Zoo is proud to support the mission of promoting a natural balance of animal and human populations.