Cincinnati Zoo Aardvark “Ali” Gets Life-Saving Blood Transfusion from Columbus Zoo Aardvark
Animal care professionals and two Ohio Zoos work together to care for ailing aardvark
CINCINNATI, OH (January 9, 2023) – Ali, an 18-year-old aardvark at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, is on the road to recovery thanks to a blood donation from “Kiazi”, a nine-year-old aardvark from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
“Ali has a history of dental issues, and, because of her jaw shape, monitoring tooth disease is very difficult without anesthesia and advanced imaging,” said Cincinnati Zoo associate veterinarian Jess Heinz. “On a recent health exam, a CT revealed a severe tooth infection. We took her to Columbus to see Dr. Jamie Berning, a board-certified veterinary dentist at Veterinary Dentistry & Oral Surgery of Ohio who has worked on everything from tiny slow loris teeth to large rhino teeth.”
Because aardvark faces are long and their mouths are small, Dr. Berning had to make an incision in her cheek to access the teeth. She had to take great care to gently surgically remove her teeth so that she didn’t cause any more damage to her jaw or nasal sinuses due to the extent of the tooth infections. After several hours of removing teeth, Ali woke up and was moved back to her home at the Cincinnati Zoo.
“Unfortunately, bloodwork at the time of her dental procedure showed recent nosebleeds related to the infection had caused her red blood cell level to become dangerously low and she needed a blood transfusion,” said Heinz. “Ali was also very tired, would not eat and would not move around much because she was so weak from her low blood levels. Aardvarks are a unique species and cannot receive cat or dog blood, so she needed blood from another aardvark.”
The Columbus Zoo came to the rescue. Within a few hours of receiving the unusual request from Cincinnati Zoo’s animal care team, they were able to anesthetize one of their adult female aardvarks and collect blood for a transfusion. Hours later, Cincinnati Zoo vets performed the blood transfusion and rechecked her dental surgical site. The transfusion did the trick! When she awoke, she was ready to eat, run around and interact with her care staff again.
“Ali still has a long road ahead of her. She is still recovering from her dental procedure and will return to Dr. Berning for a second dental procedure in the future,” said Heinz. “But that would not be possible without having stable blood levels. Her red blood cell level is stable and slowly improving with the time bought with her transfusion from Columbus Zoo.”
Blood transfusions in aardvarks are not common nor reported in the literature. The Zoo’s vets used their extensive knowledge of exotic species to anticipate complications and weigh the risks and benefits of any treatment in wild species. Because it isn’t known whether aardvarks have conflicting blood types, Ali was monitored extensively during the transfusion to look for any signs of negative reaction. None were seen and it appears she has tolerated the transfusion weeks later, which is great news for her.
“We are forever grateful for the incredible work of Dr. Berning providing specialized knowledge and hard work in helping to fix Ali’s complicated dental disease, and to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium veterinary and animal care staff for pulling together in an emergency and providing life-saving blood for Ali,” said Heinz. “We cherish these relationships with specialists and fellow zoos and look forward to continued collaboration.”