Providing optimal healthcare all of the time – It’s about relationships

Yvette Kemp

Hopefully, you have been following along with us and learning about the San Diego Zoo’s Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine. Yes, we do see the majority of our wildlife residents for medical reasons, but did you know that whenever a new wildlife resident arrives at the San Diego Zoo, they usually spend some quality time with us at the hospital during their quarantine period?

Quarantine is the time for our latest resident to assimilate into their new environment. This is when they receive their wellness exam, making sure they have any and all vaccinations needed, and their first annual exam with us, which will sometimes include a CT or body and teeth radiographs, and if needed, dental cleaning. We may even begin transitioning them to a new diet that our nutritionist know will be best for them. It is the time for an overall health check, to ensure that they start off on the right foot here in their new home. 

Depending on the situation, quarantine can last anywhere between a few weeks to a few months. It is all a matter of offering the best possible health care for each individual. So, it should come as no surprise that sometimes during this time, our new residents get attached to the wildlife care specialists at the hospital… and us to them. There is the infamous case of Copper and Mystique, the Amur leopard, who we all know that there is no way anyone can do any kind of conditioning with her if he is around. All she does when she sees him is purr and roll all over the floor, ignoring anything else going on around her. Then there’s Jeremy and Mabel the camel who developed a special bond during her time here. But there is one case in particular that has been going on since 2009. I am talking about wildlife care specialist Tom and zebra Zari.

Zari arrived at the zoo in 2009 and right away, she and Tom had a special connection. Tom is a farrier by trade and pretty much took her under his wing, making sure that she was comfortable with all her care requirements while in quarantine. On any given day, you would see them together as he conditioned her to lift her hooves for hoof care, made her comfortable with tactile examination needs, and even would walk her around the hospital area so that she would be comfortable in the surroundings. It was because of all of this special attention that Zari has become such a great Ambassador with the Wildlife in Action team.

You may be thinking, Zari was in quarantine over 10 years, why talk about it now? Well the reason I bring it up now, is because, believe it or not, Tom and Zari still see each other on a regular basis! Several times a week, you will find wildlife care specialist Tom in Zari’s habitat making sure she is still comfortable with various behaviors needed for medical checks. He trims her hooves, applies vaccinations, and even runs her through a series of behaviors that keep her physically and mentally stimulated. They work very well together, and you can see the special bond that they have developed throughout the years. Watching Tom and Zari work together as a team is pretty amazing. You know that they are communicating, but hardly ever a word is even said. Tom moves a certain way and Zari responds. It is something that everyone should take the time to observe; a lesson in communication, trust, and understanding. 

So yes, many exams and welfare checks are performed at the San Diego Zoo’s Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine by a super talented team of veterinarians, technicians, clinicians, veterinary services staff, and animal care specialists. But there are also some amazing relationships and bonds that have developed throughout the years. All you need to do is to watch Tom and Zari to know that.

Yvette Kemp is an Animal Care Supervisor at San Diego Zoo Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine.