Posts Tagged With: vulture

Rare Egyptian vulture proves he’s special for many reasons

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Egyptian Vulture

Bird keeper Debbie Milligan guest-blogs on Zoohoo!

As animal keepers, we are frequently asked: “What is your favorite fill in the blank?” I always think that question is like, “What is your favorite pie?” How can I pick just one when they are all amazing?

However, every once in a while, one member of our collection sticks out and becomes special to a lot of people. In honor of International Vulture Awareness Day on Sept. 3 (put it on your calendar!), and as a way to say bon voyage to one special bird, let me introduce you to Einstein.

Einstein is a 28-year-old Egyptian vulture who came to the Dallas Zoo in 1990. Egyptian vultures are striking birds with white body feathers, black flight feathers and a bare yellow face. With three subspecies, they range from South and Eastern Europe, India and Africa. They tend to be solitary birds or live as a pair; rarely are these birds found in groups.

For his keepers, what makes Einstein so great is his attitude. He is just… mellow. He doesn’t walk, he strolls. He isn’t intimidated by larger birds or with new items. Egyptian vultures are one of the few bird species that use tools. These birds will find rocks, of a particular size, and use the rocks to open up eggs.  The birds will use their bill to pick up the rock and throw it at the egg until they break it open to eat the yolk and egg white inside.

As a special treat, we occasionally give Einstein an unfertile ostrich egg, and he immediately shows off his tool-using skills. It is so impressive to watch him do this. (See my video below!)

 

Egyptian vultures were the symbol for royalty in ancient Egypt, They were the sacred bird of Egyptian Goddess Isis and can be seen on many hieroglyphs! In fact, Egyptian vultures were so revered, they were protected under the Pharaoh and became so common they were called “Pharaoh’s chicken.”

It’s sad that these beautiful birds are now an endangered species. Their numbers are declining rapidly.  One of the main causes for their downfall, as for most vulture species, is by eating poisoned carcasses.

Many African farmers will deliberately poison livestock carcasses, intended to kill lions and other predators as retaliation after they’ve killed their livestock, but the vultures get to them first. Vultures also die from eating the poisoned carcasses poachers leave, so the birds aren’t able to circle the sky and potentially alert authorities of illegal activity. Vultures are also dying from electrocution by flying into powerlines, and increased human disturbance in their breeding areas.

I bet you’re asking: “Why are you saying goodbye to Einstein if he is so special and we need to breed more Egyptian vultures?” It is because Einstein is one of only three Egyptian vultures in U.S. zoos. In the best interest of his species, and for Einstein to produce chicks, he needs to go to Europe to find a mate. The Prague Zoo is one institution that is world-renowned for breeding Egyptian vultures. Hopefully Einstein will become part of this program and produce many chicks to help the survival of his species.

So please come visit Einstein before he leaves this fall and celebrate this wonderful group of birds: vultures! You can find Einstein in the saddle-billed stork exhibit on the Gorilla Trail near the monorail station.

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

A very special little vulture

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_MG_1871-White-backed Vulture chick 6-9-15-CB (427x640)This little chick is a very big deal.

The video below shows the Dallas Zoo’s new white-backed vulture, the first chick hatched in a U.S. zoo in 19 years, being watched over carefully by her parents. Even more good news: tests on the chick’s feathers determined that it’s female, which is critically important.

That matters so much because there are only 13 white-backed vultures, including this one, in U.S. zoos. (Her hatching increased the number by 8%!) The small population also skews male, so a new female chick offers great potential for successful breeding.

Hatched May 25, she’s growing fast, now weighing nearly 6 pounds. When full-grown, these vultures can weigh 15 pounds, with a wingspan of up to 7 feet.

These endangered birds are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Their numbers have fallen rapidly in recent decades due to the use of carbofuran, a highly toxic pesticide, and diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used in cattle. Vultures are carrion-eaters, and they ingest the toxic drugs in animal carcasses. Populations are down 50% across their ranges, and as much as 90% in western Africa.

Dallas Zoo Bird Curator Sprina Liu and her staff are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for these birds, and will work with the SSP coordinator to determine where the chick will reside after she’s grown.

The chick, while much smaller than her parents, is visible from the viewing area closest to Camp Okapi, on the Gorilla Trail. Congratulations to our bird team for this remarkable achievement!

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Giving 100%: Zoo’s veterinary team is always on duty

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The patient was rushed to the hospital, less than a quarter-mile from her home, with a neck injury and a puncture wound to her abdomen.

Unable to communicate, she was quickly anesthetized so the scope of her injuries could be determined. Exploratory surgery revealed no intestinal damage and the deep wound was flushed and cleaned. X-rays identified a slight neck fracture, which was immobilized by an improvised splint, because there was nothing standard to fit her tiny neck. She was given antibiotics and painkillers, and was fed through an intravenous tube until she could eat on her own.

Most of the world’s scavengers don’t get this level of care, but the African white-backed vulture and other animals at the Dallas Zoo have access to four full-time veterinarians, a top-flight hospital, and more than a dozen other professionals who provide care and nutrition.

The $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility sits behind the elephant and gorilla habitats in the Wilds of Africa. The hospital, as well as other areas of the Zoo that involve animals and zookeepers, are overseen by Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., vice president of animal operations and welfare. A veterinarian, Kramer follows the progress of animals treated by the hospital staff and consults on special cases.

“This hospital is one of the best,” Kramer said. “It ranks in the top 10 percent of zoo hospitals around the country – and I’ve seen most of them.”

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Dallas Zoo veterinarians put koala Tekin under anesthesia to perform an annual checkup on him recently. He got a clean bill of health. Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey

Day-to-day care is led by Christopher J. Bonar, V.M.D., Dipl. A.C.Z.M., director of animal health, who came to the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park in January 2013. Bonar is involved in all aspects of clinical medicine, surgery, diagnostic imaging, pathology and nutrition, as well as reviews of preventive medicine, quarantine, and anesthesia protocols. He oversees three full-time veterinarians as well as vet technicians, hospital keepers, a hospital record administrator, a certified nutritionist, and the Animal Nutrition Center and nutrition team. And he’s responsible for developing research and publication goals for the department.

Bonar was planning to become a doctor when he attended Harvard University for his undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology, and expected to support his love of zoos and aquariums through philanthropy. But with his father’s encouragement, Bonar followed his passion, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and became part of a select group of zoo veterinarians who have earned board certification from the American College of Zoological Medicine. He works with Jan Raines, D.V.M., and Maren Connolly, D.V.M., to care for more than 2,100 animals (not including invertebrates).

The team makes it a point to keep their calendars clear for a portion of every day to accommodate emergencies, and someone is on duty or on call 24 hours each day. Most of their time is filled with well-patient care: administering tuberculosis tests, performing chest X-rays, updating vaccines, and conducting dental and ophthalmic exams.

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X-ray of a Thompson’s gazelle.

Incoming animals, which are quarantined for 30 to 45 days, get physicals and X-rays, and are checked for parasites and viruses. Vets also examine outgoing animals to ensure that they are free of contagious diseases before they leave Dallas.

The veterinarians talk with curators and zookeepers about any unusual animal behavior that may warrant further investigation. For example, if an animal has started limping or is lame, vets may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug (for minor cases) or may immobilize an animal to treat more serious issues.

Recently, the Dallas Zoo team monitored the health of an Aldabra tortoise for almost a year, because it wasn’t eating as much as it had in the past. Keepers and vets couldn’t find an obvious problem, and its large shell and the arrangement of tortoises’ internal organs made ultrasounds, x-rays, and laparoscopic tests ineffective. So the tortoise was taken for a CT scan. Tests revealed a tongue lesion that was repaired with a laser supplied by another veterinary specialist. The tortoise is now eating well.

“Here’s an animal that was 15 years old, but has a very long, long life ahead of him,” Bonar said, referring to the 150-year life span of Aldabra tortoises.

In another instance, the carnivore keepers at Giants of the Savanna noticed that Bonde cheetah wasn’t eating as usual, and they were concerned that he had ingested a foreign object. Raines studied blood and fecal samples and examined the cheetah with an endoscope. When Bonde hadn’t eaten 48 hours later, she administered a barium radiograph and identified an intestinal adhesion, which would have been fatal if not treated. Raines removed the problem, and the cheetah was up and running days later.

The health care and well-being of animals at the Dallas Zoo and the Children’s Aquarium are the primary focus of everyone associated with the A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility, the ANC, and an entire team of zookeepers, staff, volunteers, and supporters. It’s likely that Aldabra tortoise will outlive all of us – and that’s the goal of this team.

Categories: Birds, Cheetah, Koala, Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians, Veterinary Care | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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