Journey in the Hospital through the Eyes of a Lemur

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventure here on the Zoo’s website!

Matt Marinkovich is a Resident Veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo’s Hospital and is currently working on his three-year residency through the Zoo, Safari Park, and Sea World. Our time at the hospital was spent learning about what a vet at the Zoo does by following a case that Mr. Marinkovich worked on early in his residency. We followed the story of a ring-tailed lemur named Matthew from his initial diagnosis all the way to his recovery.

We started our afternoon in the library of the hospital, which the veterinarian staff at the Zoo use for reference. Any and all information on the anatomy and physiology of any animal can be found here! This is where we were introduced to Matthew’s case. Dr. Marinkovich walked us through the process starting with Matthew’s keeper reporting some strange behavior. We were even able to get involved by asking questions about Matthew’s diet, symptoms, activity level, etc. This is the process that all animals go through if a keeper notices that they are acting a little strange.

After the library, we made our way to the room where animals have their physical exams. All of the devices pictured above help aid in the physical examination of an animal. These devices may be used for the examination itself, to safely restrain the animal, or to keep the animal under anesthesia.

Dr. Marinkovich told us about the different ways vets can safely inject anesthetics, medicine that makes the animal sleepy. One way is using a pole syringe, which is exactly what it sounds like: a syringe on a long pole. This allows the vets to safely inject the animal from a distance. Though it is a lot safer than just using a normal syringe, it is a lot less accurate. Darting is another technique, where anesthetics can be injected from a very long distance. It’s delivered using a dart filled with the anesthetic. Even though it is relatively safe, being able to accurately dart an animal does take much experience and practice.

Another way vets safely give anesthesia is with a contraption called a squeeze. The animal is first placed into the mechanism and the back wall is slowly moved toward the front. This causes the animal to naturally move sideways to the front, which allows veterinarians to safely inject the anesthetic. We mimicked this with an adorable stuffed gorilla acting in place of Matthew.

After time is given for the anesthesia injection to set in, a mask connected to an anesthetic machine is put onto the animal (Matthew in this case). The machine sends gas anesthesia to make sure that the animal is comfortable and asleep for the entire physical procedure. Veterinarians may use different types and amounts of anesthetics depending on the animal.

While the animal is asleep, many tests are done. These tests include listening to the heart and lungs, feeling pulses, taking vitals like heart rate and temperature, blood pressure, and measuring saturated oxygen levels (SpO2). The device pictured above uses ultra-violet light to measure the percentage of blood cells that are carrying oxygen in the body. We were even able to try this on ourselves!

Another test that may be part of the physical exam is taking ultrasounds. These can be used to see if an animal is pregnant or not, just like how humans use them, but they can also show certain organs and parts of the body like the liver and pancreas. Vets can examine these images to assess the health of the animal and see what bodily systems are being affected, which may lead to a diagnosis.

Just like for humans, x-rays are extremely helpful in determining what is going on in an animal’s body. In Matthew the lemur’s case, an x-ray revealed gas and fluid in his stomach and intestines which, along with other results from his physical examination, signals that his gastrointestinal tract was being affected. For fun, Dr. Marinkovich showed us x-rays of other animals. The one pictured above is of a pregnant vervet monkey. How adorable!

After Matthew was diagnosed, he was prescribed medicine specifically for his illness. Dr. Marinkovich took us to the Zoo’s pharmacy where they store all of the medicines they use for their animals. I was really surprised to learn that a majority of them are human medications and not ones specifically designed for animals.

If the animal is very ill, they are taken to the ICU, or intensive care unit. They stay there, take their prescribed medications, and go through other treatments to ensure that they recover as quickly as possible. Once the animal is on the mend, rechecks are done to ensure that they are no longer ill and they can be transitioned to a larger area. Eventually, they all return to their usual habitat at the Zoo. Matthew was hospitalized for two weeks and spent some of that time in the enclosure on the right of the picture. He was then released back into his habitat in Africa Rocks with a clean bill of health.

By following the story of an adorable lemur named Matthew with Dr. Marinkovich, we learned about the role of vets at the Zoo. It’s not an easy job, but it truly is extremely rewarding.

Andi, Photo Journalist Team
Week Four, Fall Session 2017

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