The Cameron Park Zoo Gets New Ultrasound Machine For Their Animals
by David Sung
Mukah, a popular male Hybrid orangutan at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas, suffers from some arthritis in his right leg. But, it hasn’t slowed him down too much because the zoo’s medical staff manages his arthritis with medicine.
Zoo officials would also like to better monitor and manage the heart health of Mukah and other apes at the zoo. Heart disease is prevalent among great apes. However, the zoo needs a new ultrasound machine to gather more measurements and detailed images of their hearts. The current ultrasound machine they use is on loan to the zoo and it has limitations.
“Right now, if we need more detailed images, we have to either ask a veterinarian with a better machine to make a trip out to the zoo, or we are forced to bring the animal somewhere else, which can be stressful,” said Dr. James Kusmierczyk, the zoo’s veterinarian.
The zoo is currently raising funds for a new ultrasound machine that would potentially be used on all of its animals. The cost of a new machine is $65,000. Cash Store has made a donation to the zoo’s ultrasound fundraiser to help defray that cost. To date, the zoo has raised $17,800.
“The wonderful thing about ultrasound is that it is non-invasive and harmless,” Kusmierczyk said. “Some of the other animals we have already started voluntary ultrasound training on are our ring-tailed lemurs, American black bears, and Komodo dragons. We are also looking to use the (new) machine eventually on our white rhinoceroses, antelope, and giraffe. Ultrasound can even be used on fish.”
Benefits of New Ultrasound Machine
A new ultrasound machine would enable the zoo’s medical staff to correctly measure internal organs, developing fetuses, and even look at heart valves.
“Specifically with our orangutans, we are interested in measuring their heart’s ejection fraction,” Kusmierczyk said. “This is the fraction of blood that is pumped out with each heartbeat. It is a good overall indicator of cardiac function. We cannot measure ejection fraction currently.”
Mukah and another male ape, Kerajaan, are being trained for participating in “awake echocardiograms” on their hearts, but the zoo’s current ultrasound equipment doesn’t capture detailed measurements. A new ultrasound, with a probe specifically for echocardiograms, would enable zoo officials to collect these measurements and submit more information to the Great Ape Heart Project, which is an organization based out of Zoo Atlanta which compiles data related to heart disease in all great apes.
How the Zoo Trains Animals
In addition to the echocardiograms, all of the zoo’s orangutans are trained on how to participate in voluntary blood pressure readings. The zoo’s primate keepers, Emily Ellison, Laura Laverick and Theresa Larson, use positive reinforcement training to help the animals learn how to participate in blood pressure readings and awake echocardiograms.
“This means that an animal is never punished for not training or doing an incorrect behavior, rather they are always rewarded for doing the correct behavior in a calm manner,” the primate keepers said. “Using positive reinforcement, the keepers create a trusting bond with the animals they train. Overall, this seems to make the animals more comfortable doing a complex behavior that may seem startling at first.”
Cash Store encourages others to consider making a donation toward the new ultrasound machine and probes and to help the Cameron Park Zoo reach its goal. The new medical equipment will help the zoo improve its monitoring and medical treatment for its animals. Read about the zoo’s efforts to get a new ultrasound and make a donation today.
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