Veterinary Care: Martens in Manistee

Dr. Ann Duncan is the chief veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.

One of my favorite things to do is assist with work in the field. It is very rewarding to be able to use our veterinary expertise to help animals succeed in their natural habitat. This month, I and Dr. Wynona Shellabarger each had the opportunity to spend a few days near Manistee in northern Michigan, assisting with health assessments of free-ranging martens.

The American pine marten (Martes Americana) is an important carnivore species that was originally found throughout most of our state. Habitat loss and overhunting led marten populations to drop to zero by the early 1900s. In 1986, the U.S. Forest Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources reintroduced 36 martens into the Manistee National Forest. Early monitoring of the released animals indicated that the population was not expanding as expected. Professor Paul Keenlance from Grand Valley State University has been leading research efforts to better understand this group’s habitat range and preferences, breeding success, and the distribution of their young, known as kits.

His research team is also working to better understand what they eat and to determine the degree of genetic diversity. The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) participation is in support of the work Dr. Maria Spriggs from Busch Gardens is leading to assess the overall health of the Ann Duncan - Martenpopulation. To conduct this research, the martens are captured in what are known as Hav-A-Heart traps – which are humane traps that close in such a way that they do not harm the animal. The traps are set carefully to ensure that martens have a nice snug spot. We cover each trap with pine needles and leaves for warmth and nest building, and put large pieces of bark on top to protect them from rain and snow. We also place meat bait and grapes in each trap so that they have a snack and a source of water.

Our visit this spring marked our fifth trip to the field site. A typical day in the field starts at 7 a.m. because we want to make sure that any martens that have been captured do not have to wait long. Each trap is marked on a map with GPS coordinates and we drive from one trap to the next. Empty traps are restocked with bait and grapes as needed.

Ann Duncan - martenIf we catch a marten, things get very exciting. Each marten is given anesthetic gas with a face mask to allow an examination. During the procedure, we measure several parameters to ensure that anesthesia is safe and smooth. We measure body temperature to make sure martens are not too cold or hot. Next, we collect a body weight, perform a thorough physical exam, check the teeth to determine age and check for ticks and fleas. We collect urine, feces and hair samples, and collect blood for an overall health panel and to determine exposure to viruses. Lastly, each marten is fitted with a GPS collar. The DZS provides GPS collars that are able to provide a location every 15 minutes to an hour for many months.

During a typical week, we usually catch between five and 10 martens. Each capture expands our understanding of these amazing creatures. The information that has been gathered so far has lead to changes in the management of the forest in which they live, and will be used to inform decisions about marten protection in the future.

– Dr. Ann Duncan

Veterinary Care: Water Monitor Exam

Dr. Ann Duncan is the Chief Veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.

We recently performed an examination on our new water monitor. He is a 5-year-old adult male, weighs 30 pounds and is approximately 6 feet long. Water monitors are native to parts of southeast Asia. They are not an endangered species, but are known to be exploited in the pet trade. We rescued him from a local rescue organization that recently lost its funding, and he is currently in quarantine to ensure he is free from health problems before he is moved to the Holden Reptile Conservation Center.

All animals new to the Detroit Zoo undergo a quarantine period; this is a very important practice that allows close observation, acclimation to new diets and caretakers, and ensures we do not transfer any contagious diseases to the rest of the resident animals.

Many of our snakes and lizards can be held by trained zookeepers while we examine them thoroughly and collect blood and other samples for testing. They can often even be radiographed while resting quietly on an X-ray plate. Our new water monitor is a very large lizard, and we knew it would not be possible to hold him safely for his exam. Water MonitorDr. Wynona Shellabarger created a plan for the monitor’s examination, and then went to his holding area to administer a sedative to allow for a safe and calm trip to the hospital. Once there, he was given gas anesthesia through a facemask until he was sedated enough that we could position him for radiographs and safely examine him. We palpated his abdomen, muscles and joints, listened to his heart and lungs, and examined him from head to toe, including the inside of his mouth. We also performed an ultrasound exam of his heart and other abdominal organs.

He appears healthy and in good condition. We will continue to “monitor” him until his quarantine period has ended and his new habitat at the Holden Reptile Conservation Center is ready for him.

– Dr. Ann Duncan

Veterinary Care: Rockhopper Exams

Dr. Ann Duncan is the Chief Veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.

This week, the veterinary staff at the Rockhopper PenguinDetroit Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex performed examinations on the 11 oldest rockhopper penguins living in the Penguinarium.  As with other animals, penguins can develop age-related health problems as they get older. We know that it’s important to identify health problems early, and this begins with a thorough physical examination.

Veterinary staff members regularly visit the Penguinarium to observe and evaluate the 73 penguins of four species – rockhopper, macaroni, king and gentoo – and during these visits, we may check on an individual if we notice a squinting eye or a mild lameness, or examine and collect blood from a penguin with a decreased appetite.

For the exams this week, the 11 oldest rockhopper penguins were transported one at a time to the hospital for a thorough examination. Once there, they were administered anesthetic gases through a mask until they were sleepy, and then were laid on a towel on our exam table. Using anesthesia allows our veterinary team to very carefully examine each penguin from the tip of their beak to the bottoms of their toes. While they are relaxed, we can feel for lumps under the feathers and arthritis in the joints, carefully inspect their mouth and throat and listen to their heart and lungs. We can also palpate their abdomens while they are relaxed, which is very tricky when they are awake. Probably the biggest advantage is that we can take carefully positioned radiographs of their entire bodies to check for organ enlargement, respiratory problems, arthritis and other changes. We also collect blood during these exams, which is a very valuable tool for screening for illness.

Kat - Rockhopper Penguin

The oldest penguin that we examined this week was Kat, a 43-year-old female rockhopper penguin.  She is the oldest living rockhopper penguin in a zoo, and the first of her kind to successfully hatch in a North American zoo – having hatched at the Detroit Zoo in 1972.  We are happy to say that she still appears to be very healthy!

– Dr. Ann Duncan