Veterinarians at zoos, aquariums, and conservation areas (to mention a few) face some unique challenges. Just how unique these challenges can be is the subject of The Rhino With The Glue-On Shoes And Other Surprising True Stories Of Zoo Vets And Their Patients edited by Lucy Spelman and Ted Mashima. The book consists of twenty-eight stories that chronicle some of the situations vets find themselves facing.
The book is divided into five sections and I will highlight a story from each section to try and give you some of the flavor of the book.
The first section, called Close Connections, deals with the personal connections vets come to feel for the animals they treat. At first hearing, a green moray eel might seem an unlikely candidate for this kind of story, but reading The Eel and the Bartender, written by Elizabeth Chittick Nolan, will change that perception. The story concerns a green moray eel donated to the New England Aquarium in the 1990’s. The eel had been donated to the aquarium by a bartender. A preliminary examination revealed the eel to be quite healthy, so the fact that it refused to eat was a cause for some concern. The aquarists tried every trick they knew, to no avail. By week three desperation had set in and in a last ditch effort the bartender who had donated the eel was brought in. I’ll let Nolan tell you what happened:
I don’t remember the words of endearment said that day. I remember that the man hand-fed the eel a piece of fish or shrimp, and that the eel did not refuse food from that day forward. But most of all, I remember the look of pure adoration on the man’s face as this eel emerged from its hiding place for him, and only him.
The other stories in this section concern a chimp, an orphan fawn, a bear cub, and a suddenly orphaned beluga.
The second section, Technology Helps, deals with novel applications of technology to the medical problems of animals. This section contains the essay the book was named after – The Rhino With the Glue-On Shoes – written by Lucy Spelman. The essay concerns a greater one-horned rhino with problems with his feet. The tissue between his toes and the soles of his feet grew abnormally and had to be trimmed on a regular basis – a messy procedure involving surgery and anesthesia. The problem was, in some ways, environmental. In the wild greater one-horned rhinos live in swampy, muddy ground. In zoos the world over they are on gravel and concrete floors. Additionally, they were frequently overweight. This rhino had access to an outdoor pool and the mud around it, during the winter when he was confined indoors his feet would worsen (there is, actually, more to the story than this, but I don’t want to give everything away). The solution, in this case, turned out to be remarkably low tech. Basically, they applied something like horseshoes to each of his toes (greater one-horned rhinos have three per hoof).
This section also contains essays on pandas, whale sharks, raptors, and frogs.
The third section, Getting Physical, contains essays dealing with getting up close and personal with a variety of wild animals. In Partners in the Mist: A Close Call Christopher Whittier and Felicia Nutter relate an experience with a gorilla in Rwanda. Ordinarily, intervening to aide a gorilla is only done when the case is life threatening or human-induced. In the case of Joliami the injuries occurred, possibly, in a fight with another gorilla. However, his hands were severely injured and he was unable to walk correctly or feed himself correctly. Tracking, sedating, and treating a large gorilla in the wild is not without risk, and in this case did not go off without a hitch. There was at least one human severely injured. Following treatment an attempt was made to keep track of the gorilla, but, unfortunately, he left his group shortly thereafter (this was in 2007) and hasn’t been seen since.
This section also contains essays on bison, camels, crocodiles, elephants, and dolphins made homeless by Katrina.
The fourth section, Puzzles and Mysteries, deals with, well, puzzling and mysterious conditions. In Death of a Lemur: An Unsolved Mystery Amy Rae Gandolf relates the heartbreaking story of Brass – a red ruffed lemur with a puzzling condition. The problem started with a routine TB test. Apparently the test was performed on his eyelid and within days his eyes and muzzle started swelling. More in depth examinations revealed low numbers of red and white blood cells. It could be infection, an immune mediated disease, or some form of cancer. Cancer was eventually ruled out and it was decided that it was some type of immune mediated disease. Brass’ condition continued to deteriorate to the point that he had to be euthanized. An autopsy failed to turn up nothing. What adds to the essay, as Gandolf struggles with trying to find the nature of, and treatment for, the illness is the fact that Gandolf’s mother was also undergoing a similar struggle with an immune mediated disease that, in some ways, was eerily similar to that of Brass. This is, perhaps, the best, and at the same time, most frustrating essay in the book.
This section also has essays about tigers, an octopus, another rhino, dung beetles, and another dolphin.
The fifth section, Crossover, is a mixed bag and the essays seem to be united by novel solutions to difficult problems. In the case of Amali’s Example by Lauren Howard, the solution doesn’t quite work. Amali’s mother stepped on her hip shortly after birth. This caused a hip dislocation which required surgery to correct. The hip only partially healed and Amali increasingly favored her front legs, eventually causing joint problems. A PVC splint was tried, but this was difficult to put on. Eventually, someone was found to supply custom splints, some of them quite colorful. One in particular had purple butterflies and by wearing it, Amali inspired a four year old to continue wearing her wrist brace (but you will have to read the story to find out how). Amali’s story has a sad ending though. Apparently one night something had startled her and she tripped and fell, breaking her neck in the process.
This section also has essays about a goldfish, red kangaroo, polar bear, weedy sea dragons, and a hippo.
Overall, the essays were interesting, informative, and well written. Some end in sorrow, most have happy endings. What comes across in each is the love, respect, and dedication vets have for their patients. Definitely recommended.
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