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Monday, December 5, 2022

Zoo Crew

“The zoo is my office,” says Amos Morris, director of Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden. While his actual office is located in the Discovery Center, the Missouri native’s job often leads him to the Donald W. McMurtry Veterinary Complex, nestled at the bottom of a hill near the Children’s Enchanted Forest.

Morris, who came to Evansville in late 2008 from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, began his career 23 years ago “in the trenches,” he says — working in the antelope barn at the St. Louis Zoo. For that reason, Mesker veterinarian Dr. Maria Spriggs sometimes enlists Morris’ help in the clinic, where various surgical, radiological, and dental procedures are performed to keep the zoo’s animals healthy.

1. Down the Tubes: These tubes deliver gas anesthesia to animals undergoing surgical procedures. The smallest ones could be used for a finch or mouse; the biggest could sedate a horse, jaguar, or small antelope. (Some well-mannered animals, such as certain monkeys, can be sedated with a face mask.)

2. Open Wide: The dental cart holds an ultrasonic scaler to remove tartar and plaque from the animals’ teeth during yearly cleanings. Like humans, some animals are more prone to dental problems than others — once, veterinary staff collaborated with a local oral surgeon to perform a tooth extraction on a howler monkey.

3. Tabled: The zoo’s largest animals, such as giraffes, tigers, or tapirs, are treated in the field. One of the strangest procedures performed on this table, says Spriggs, was shaving a South American porcupine before removing stone-like growths from its stomach. She calls the experience “prickly.”

4. Skin Deep: Spriggs and veterinary technician Kristine VanHoosier examine a corn snake after a keeper noticed a rough, scaly patch on its skin. (It was just a scar made more visible by shedding.) This even-tempered snake, native to North America, travels around the community with docents for educational programs.

What You Don’t See:
The 1990-built vet complex was remodeled several years ago to make way for the dozens of rainforest residents that now populate Amazonia. Before they’re transported to their homes, newly arrived animals undergo a 30-day period of isolation and careful monitoring. Behind the exam room is a series of quarantine rooms, including ones filled with branches and designed just for birds.

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