Core Animal Health Programs
We believe that the foundation of good health care is preventative medicine and proper nutrition. To this end, each animal at the Zoo receives an Annual Wellness Review, which generally includes a review of current health status and diet, a visual evaluation, and body condition score, body weight when possible, and vaccine boosters. In addition, most animals receive periodic comprehensive Life Stage Evaluations that typically include physical examination, laboratory panels, radiographs, and ultrasound. Despite the preventative medicine program, animals do become sick or injured, requiring the veterinary staff to respond to and treat a variety of problems, ranging from minor ailments to serious life-threatening conditions. As the Zoo’s animals age, we provide care for an array of geriatric ailments, including arthritis, organ failure, and cancer.
In collaboration with animal care staff and commissary, hospital staff oversees the Zoo’s nutrition program which provides for the complex and very specific dietary needs of our Zoo’s animals.
Veterinary Care Staff
The full-time veterinary staff consists of two veterinarians, four registered veterinary technicians, and an administrative assistant. In addition to the full-time staff, we rely on a corps of part-time veterinarians and technicians, and veterinary and human consultants in a wide array of specialties, including surgery, anesthesia, cardiology, internal medicine, ophthalmology, radiology, ultrasound, behavior, alternative (Eastern) medicine, pathology, and nutrition.
The Zoo has a stand-alone veterinary hospital that contains a treatment room, a surgery suite, laboratory, conference room, and library, animal holding rooms, quarantine, and pharmacy, and state-of-the-art technologies, including digital radiography, ultrasound, endoscopy, and minimally invasive surgery. When the need arises, advanced imaging techniques such as CT scan and MRI can be performed at local veterinary specialty hospitals.
Voluntary Medical Behavior Training
Unlike domestic animals or humans, performing routine physical exams and health testing of most zoo animals usually requires a general anesthetic. Fortunately, a number of animals at the San Francisco Zoo have been trained to voluntarily participate in their own health care by performing medical behaviors that allow veterinary staff to accomplish tasks that previously required anesthesia. In some species, behaviors such as injections, oral exams, and body weights have become routine. With medical behavior training, we can use ultrasound to look at the hearts of our great apes and diagnose pregnancy in tigers, anteaters, yellow-backed duikers, and giraffe. Medical behavior training requires great planning, coordination, and patience on the part of the Zoo’s maintenance, animal care, and veterinary staff, but the payoff is the ability to provide better care of the animals.
Unlike other veterinary and human medical fields, there is relatively little known about health care of wildlife. Thus, zoological medicine is an academic specialty by necessity and relies greatly on clinical research and multidisciplinary collaboration to advance. To this end, the Zoo’s Veterinary Department oversees a wide ranging zoo research program, including collaborations with researchers at universities and other zoos. Current and past research projects include:
• Great ape cardiac health study
• Meerkat heart disease (cardiomyopathy) study
• Penguin body condition scoring study
• Penguin voriconazole antifungal pharmoacokinetic study
• Exotic animal neonatology
• Johne’s Disease in free ranging Tule elk in California
• Polar bear milk composition
• Ruffed lemur iron storage disease and ferritin assay development
• Ruffed lemur nutritional parameters
• Taurine deficiency and requirements in zoo animals
Veterinary staff strives to stay current in animal health care by attending continuing education conferences, subscribing to journals, and belonging to professional organizations, including the American Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians, Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians, Bear Care Group, International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, Nutrition Advisory Group, Wildlife Disease Association, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Veterinary staff members publish scientific articles and book chapters and also participate in continuing education conferences by giving lectures and presenting posters. The veterinary department offers training externships for aspiring zoo veterinarians and veterinary technicians. For information on externship opportunities, please contact the Veterinary Department at Hospital@sfzoo.org.
Veterinary staff members are deeply committed to conservation and thus participate in a number of local, regional, and international conservation projects and collaborations with conservation organizations.
• Native Wildlife Management: Living with Local Wildlife
• Sierra Yellow Legged Frog Conservation Project
• Western Pond Turtle Head Starting Project
• Makira Forest Bushmeat Initiative, Madagascar
• Berenty Reserve Bald Lemur Syndrome, Madagascar
• Andean Cat Alliance, Argentina
• Wildlife Health Network
• Wildlife Conservation Network