This past Tuesday I got to tag along and help out with a couple of ultrasound exams. It was a really great day. It’s really exciting when you detect a pregnancy. Every time we did another ultrasound it felt like playing the lottery: is it a winner? Any kind of baby animal is good news in my book, and it’s especially exciting with endangered animals. A lot of the time zoos have trouble getting animals to reproduce, and for certain species a birth in captivity is a rare thing.
We started at 8:30am driving around the facility. Unlike the Zoo in DC, SCBI is very spread out. There are lots of different barns with pastures for grazing and fields for growing grass(hay) and alfalfa. Most of the hay needed to feed the animals both here and at the Zoo is grown here. We went to the areas for Eld’s deer, Persian onagers and P. Horses to check out a few females that the keepers had seen interacting with males and believed might be pregnant.
P. Horses are Przewalski’s horses, pronounced ‘Chevalsky’s horses’. They are the only species of horse that has never been domesticated and were once extinct in the wild. If you’ve ever seen a cave painting of a horse, that’s pretty much what they look like. Onagers look a bit like donkeys, are a little bit smaller than P. Horses and are native to Asia. Eld’s deer are native to Asia as well, and collectively between their three subspecies have only about 2,000 individuals left in the wild.
Neither the Onagers nor the P. Horses are comfortable being handled by humans, but instead of having to use anesthesia for veterinary procedures, there is a clever sort of chute system that they use to be able to do procedures safely while the animal is awake. To get from the barn to the field, the animals have to walk through these chutes, sort of like narrow hallways. They go through them every day, so they are accustomed to it. Partway down the chute, there is a hydraulic device that is essentially two heavily cushioned walls that close around the animal and lift it a little bit off of the ground. Once the animal is immobilized one can conduct medical check-ups like taking blood, applying medicine, or in this case, performing an ultrasound exam.
For the Eld’s Deer it is much easier. Most of the Eld’s deer here were hand raised or desensitized to people, so they are very comfortable around humans. Two of the keepers gently held the deer still and we shaved a bit of fur from the abdomen to get direct skin contact.
I can’t say here what we found—the Zoo gets to inform the public when there are new babies, not me. But anyway, it was a really great experience. I’m glad to have the opportunity to participate in things like this while I’m here.