Caring for Creatures Great and Small

Posted February 22, 2023 by Michelle Curley

No such thing as a typical day for the Cincinnati Zoo’s vet staff 

One day for a Cincinnati Zoo veterinarian might include a physical exam for a 1-oz naked mole rat in the morning and a trunk wash for a five-ton elephant in the afternoon!  The next day could start with a tiger tooth extraction and end with a giraffe hoof trimming session.   

“It’s never the same thing two days in a row,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal health Mike Wenninger.  “Even routine rounds aren’t routine!  Our keepers and veterinary technicians do extensive training that allows us to perform many medical procedures without anesthesia, but that involves the cooperation of the patient.  If they do not want to participate, we need to reschedule. Luckily, hard work pays off and they are usually quite amenable.” 

With about 1,500 animals from roughly 400 species to care for, Wenninger and his team of two other veterinarians, three vet techs, and a nutritionist are busy! The number of patients is staggering but add to that the challenge of them being located in every corner of the Zoo’s 80-acre campus.

Recent vet staff activity has included:

  • Ultrasound on an Aruba island rattlesnake
  • Physical exams for 17 naked mole rats. 
  • Radiograph on Chuxiong fire-bellied newt
  • Weighing three manatees 
  • Follow-up exam on Ali the Aardvark (after having a dental procedure and a blood transfusion)
  • Radiographs on Tessa giraffe for routine foot care
  • Bonobo preventative health exams x3 (exam, bloodwork, ultrasound, echocardiogram, radiographs, tb test, gastric wash, dentistry) 
  • Cheetah exam, radiographs, ultrasound, dental, bloodwork 
  • 3 Armadillo exams, ultrasounds, radiographs, and bloodwork…… 
  • Body condition scoring and blood pressure training with snow leopards 
  • Annual health exams on five snakes, three lizards, six turtles—and there’s about three times more than that on the schedule.
  • Training with elephants for medical procedures like blood collection, physical exams, injections 
  • Voluntary radiographs of a pig to check for spinal disease 
  • Replace hoof bandage on goat with chronic hoof issues 
  • Specialized antibiotic therapy (regional limb perfusion) of a little blue penguin under anesthesia 

The veterinary team provides preventative care, sick patient care, geriatric care, surgeries, and emergency medical attention. Members of the team are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“We also have great relationships with specialists in the area and often reach out for help with difficult cases or to borrow equipment that we might not have,” said Wenninger. “Our neighbors from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital rushed over with sophisticated equipment to help us put a life-saving IV in our most famous resident, Fiona, six years ago when she was born premature and became severely dehydrated. We are grateful to have a network of medical professionals who are willing to consult and support us.”