Zoo & Aquarium

Zoo & Aquarium Stories

ASOC is proud to partner with the Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Aquarium to provide veterinary surgical care for some “exotic” patients.  Read their stories here:

  • Brazil the Ocelot

    During a routine health exam, several abnormalities were identified in the blood work of Brazil, a 15-year-old male ocelot from Woodland Park Zoo. Ultrasound and x-ray imaging revealed a mass on his left kidney. Zoo veterinarians contacted ASOC to formulate a plan for further diagnostics and surgical removal of the kidney, and board-certified specialists from five different veterinary disciplines collaborated to provide the best possible care. Brazil was transported to the Animal Surgical Clinic, where Zoo veterinarian Kelly Helmick, DVM, DACZM, administered sedation followed by a general anesthetic. The first procedure performed was an intravenous pyelogram, which is used to visualize abnormalities of the urinary system. The images were assessed by Animal Medical Center of Seattle’s internal medicine veterinarian Jennifer Strasser, DVM, DACVIM, who also performed an abdominal ultrasound. These two procedures confirmed the nature of the kidney mass and that the right kidney was functioning adequately to support removal of the left kidney. Next, oncologist Chelsea Tripp, DVM, DACVIM (O), performed a bone marrow biopsy to help identify the abnormalities seen in Brazil’s red and white blood cells. ASOC veterinary technicians prepped Brazil for surgery and gave an epidural injection for pain control. ASOC surgeon Alexander Aguila, DVM, DACVS, examined Brazil’s liver and other organs, performing a biopsy of the most abnormal portion of liver. The left kidney mass was evaluated, and intraoperative cytology was submitted to onsite pathologist Jennifer Ward, DACVP, of SpecialtyVETPATH. Based on these results, the decision was made to surgically remove the kidney and its associated mass. Both will be processed and evaluated by Dr. Ward to identify the type of the mass, which will dictate options for additional treatment, if necessary. Brazil was recovered from anesthesia and transported back to the Zoo for recovery and post-op care, monitored closely by WPZ veterinarians and staff.

  • “Otterly” Adorable

    On October 14, 2013, ASOC surgeon Alexander Aguila, DVM, DACVS, teamed up with the animal health team of Woodland Park Zoo to repair a jaw fracture in a four-month-old Asian small-clawed otter pup. The pup is one of four born that June to father Guntur and mother Teratai, and the pair’s first offspring. The previous day, the otter pup was injured during a vaccination procedure, and Zoo staff immediately transported him from the off-exhibit holding pen to the Zoo’s hospital for x-rays and treatment. Zoo veterinarians administered fluids and pain medications and stabilized him overnight while they consulted with Dr. Aguila on a surgical plan. The following morning, Dr. Darin Collins and other members of the WPZ animal health team transported the pup to Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle for surgery. Zoo veterinary staff administered gas anesthesia while he was safely confined in his crate. Once he was fully anesthetized, he was moved into the operating room and prepped for surgery by ASOC staff, while WPZ staff continued to monitor anesthesia level and vital signs. Dr. Aguila placed plates and screws to reposition and stabilize the jaw, and the pup was quickly returned to the Zoo’s hospital for recovery and rehabilitation. The otter pup began eating right away upon his return, and was reunited with his family about three weeks after surgery.

  • Kyle the Patas Monkey

    When Woodland Park Zoo’s six-year-old male Patas monkey Kyle was suffering from an uncontrollable infection in the bones around his right shoulder, Zoo veterinarian Dr. Kelly Helmick worked with Dr. Alex Aguila of Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle to determine the best course of action. Systemic antibiotic therapy and intensive supportive care resolved the life-threatening infection in the blood and soft tissue. However, while some of Kyle’s symptoms improved, bone deterioration around his right shoulder progressed. Drs. Helmick and Aguila considered a plan to surgically implant beads that could release antibiotics directly around the site of infection, but the progression of bone lesions was so fast and severe even with antibiotics that there was significant concern that this method would not work quickly enough to save Kyle. The decision was made to amputate the forelimb. This course of action was considered reasonable, since the primary ambulation method for Patas monkeys is walking or running. In addition, Kyle had already been coping with a potential disability since he’d been unable to use this forelimb for the duration of the infection. The amputation would rid the body of infection quickly, prevent return of the life-threatening blood infection, and relieve the associated pain. Dr. Helmick’s team at Woodland Park Zoo skillfully anesthetized Kyle for the procedure, and Dr. Aguila and his scrub assistant, Teresa Casson, LVT, performed the amputation. Biopsy results of bone removed at surgery confirmed a severe bacterial infection as the source of the bone lesions, as well as the presence of a fracture that had occurred as a result of the infection. The surgery and Kyle’s recovery from anesthesia were uneventful. After two weeks of post-op care and hospitalization, the incision was healed, Kyle’s demeanor improved, and all signs of infection were resolved. Kyle was discharged back to the Zoo and reintroduced to his female companion Alexa; both monkeys were returned to the Zoo’s award-winning African Savanna exhibit where Kyle was able to enjoy and explore his habitat without compromise.

  • Natasha the Steller's Sea Eagle

    The Woodland Park Zoo’s Director of Animal Health Dr. Darin Collins contacted Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle regarding a potential fracture repair on the right wing of a Steller’s sea eagle named Natasha. Steller’s sea eagles are among the largest and heaviest of the raptor family; Natasha weighed in at 13 pounds with a wingspan of over six feet. She’d been found on the ground of her enclosure and appeared to have difficulty maintaining her balance, holding her wing lower than normal. Natasha had come to the Zoo with an existing right wing abnormality from a previous injury, but had successfully navigated her zoo enclosure despite her limited flight capability, moving from branch to branch with short flights. Speculation was that this new injury was the result of Natasha falling from a higher branch. After examining the eagle and taking x-rays at the zoo’s Animal Health Complex, Dr. Collins determined that she had fractured her humerus (equivalent to the human upper arm bone) and would require specialized surgery. Upon receiving the news of the injury, ASOC’s Dr. Alex Aguila and Dr. Collins collaborated with Dr. Ricardo de Matos, an avian specialist at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, on a treatment plan to place an external fixator system to stabilize the fracture during the healing period. Dr. Aguila worked alongside another ASOC surgeon, Dr. Russell Bennett, to place the external fixator, with the help of surgical assistant, Dr. Cristina Flamini. Anesthesia and vital signs were monitored constantly by Dr. Collins and, in just over an hour, surgery was completed. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of veterinary staff from ASOC and Woodland Park Zoo, Natasha’s open wound and fracture did not fully heal, and she re-fractured her humerus two months after the repair. She was humanely euthanized on May 14, 2011. “The bird’s prognosis was always guarded, and bone infection was always a high risk outcome,” explained Dr. Collins. “We had very high hopes for a positive post-operative recovery but her mobility and quality of life would have been severely compromised if the bone did not heal completely, which was the eventual outcome in this case. Euthanizing her was the most humane option, as amputation of the full wing would have left the bird unable to balance. We are very grateful to the surgery team of ASOC and for the sharp observation skills of our zookeepers.”

  • Bakari the African Wild Dog

    The African Wild Dog is one of earth’s most endangered predators, and fewer than 6000 dogs remain in the wild. Sometimes called painted dogs, painted wolves or Cape hunting dogs, African Wild Dogs are the wolves of Africa. They are fierce hunters, yet live together in a highly developed social pack, which carefully tends to its old, young and sick members. When zookeepers discovered five-year-old Bakari limping in his enclosure, Zoo veterinary staff immediately immobilized Bakari with a tranquilizer dart, transported him to the Zoo veterinary clinic and x-rayed his leg. Seeing that Bakari had fractured his femur (thigh bone), the Zoo vets called ASOC for consultation on a repair and emailed digital images of the x-rays to the clinic. Dr. Russ Patterson re-arranged his schedule to be immediately available for surgery. Upon Bakari’s arrival at ASOC, our licensed veterinary technicians hooked up Bakari to extensive monitoring equipment, administered epidural and IV injections to control pain, set him up on an IV fluid drip and placed him under a warm air blanket to maintain his body temperature. Next, they shaved his leg and scrubbed it for surgery, and also administered IV antibiotics to head off any infection. During the two-and-a-half-hour surgery, Dr. Patterson repaired the fracture using a stainless steel plate, screws and wire. He then used absorbable sutures to close the incision, so that the Zoo wouldn’t have to sedate Bakari in two weeks to remove them. After completion of the procedure, the technicians took a post-op x-ray, which showed a highly successful repair of the fracture site. Bakari was loaded back into the Zoo van while remaining on gas anesthesia, and returned to the zoo for recovery. There he was placed in a portable traveling cage padded with straw; being confined in a smaller space, he was less likely to thrash around or fall while waking from anesthesia. He was fully awake and standing within an hour, when he was allowed to walk from the cage into his holding area. Throughout Bakari’s initial 12-week rehabilitation period, his littermate was in an adjacent holding area, so they were in constant contact through sight, sound and scent without direct physical contact. At 13 weeks, the two were carefully reintroduced and Bakari was allowed back into his exhibit area. At 16 weeks post-op, Bakari was just about back to his normal activity level, with no lameness. He was recently anesthetized for a routine dental procedure, and x-rays of his leg showed that the bone has completely healed.

  • Lootas the Sea Otter

    On December 6, 2005, Seattle Aquarium biologists were proud to announce the birth of a fluffy bundle of fur at the Aquarium. Lootas the sea otter gave birth to her pup, Alki, that evening at 5:25 p.m. What made the birth notable is that Lootas was the first otter to successfully give birth naturally following a C-section for a previous pregnancy – a testament to the surgical skills of the specialists at the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle. Alki was Lootas’ fourth live pup. “We were nervous about this birth in particular since Lootas underwent an emergency C-section two years ago,” stated CJ Casson, Curator of Life Sciences at the Seattle Aquarium. “She recovered well from that surgery, which was performed by board-certified veterinary surgeons Dr. Allen Johnson and Dr. Russell Patterson from the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle,” he continued. “We were very lucky to have such dedicated and talented professionals available and willing to perform surgery on a sea otter. This birth is a relief to us all.” At the time of Alki’s birth, Lootas was an eight-year old northern sea otter who’d been orphaned in Alaska as a young pup when her mother was killed by a power boat in 1997. Although she was slightly injured, the then-four-week-old pup began her recuperation at the SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, and was brought to the Seattle Aquarium. Lootas was hand-raised at the Aquarium and is one of its more popular animals. The pup’s father, Adaa, was found suffering from hypothermia on an airport runway in Alaska at about seven months of age. He was raised at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where he lived until coming to the Seattle Aquarium in April of 2004 as part of a breeding exchange program.