From Cradle to Grave
Aging is a part of life and the ABQ BioPark's animals are no exception. Luckily, they are in good hands.
“We work with a very dynamic collection of animals and we take our responsibility to provide everything necessary through their life to create the best welfare from cradle to grave,” said Tammy Schmidt, ABQ BioPark Zoo curator of mammals.
This includes everything from providing balanced diets, fresh water, proactive health care, engaging habitats, privacy areas, and environmental and behavioral enrichment throughout animals’ lives.
When animals grow older, they often face issues and ailments similar to those experienced by older humans. These ailments may include vision and hearing loss, degenerative joint disease/arthritis, dental issues and loss of strength and balance, among others. Some diseases are more common in older animals as are certain types of cancers and kidney problems. Older animals also have higher susceptibility to certain infections.
The ABQ BioPark has thousands of creatures in its living collection. This includes about 230 mammals, 270 birds and 500 reptiles and amphibians; about 11,000 fish and invertebrates at the Aquarium; and more than 1,000 arthropods at the BUGarium.
Animals that live under human care generally live longer than they would in the wild due to better nutrition, immersive habitats, appropriate social groups and proactive veterinary care. At any given time, the BioPark cares for animals that are at the end of their natural lifespan, although many live past their wild—and even captive—life expectancies.
“Some of them have outlived any of their wild counterparts, hands-down,” said Schmidt.
Special Care for Geriatric Animals
The ABQ BioPark’s commitment to its animals goes from cradle to grave. Veterinarians work with keepers and animal managers to provide as much comfort as possible in an animal’s geriatric years.
“We have animals that get to age gracefully,” said Schmidt.
When an animal ages, the ABQ BioPark provides it with more options. For example, gorilla Huerfanita has a special bedroom and can choose to stay in her room during the day and night or to go out into the gorilla habitat with the others. Many animals also receive extra bedding so that they’re as comfortable as possible. As an animal’s mobility declines, it may need habitat alterations like smoother terrain or lowered perches. Most BioPark visitors never suspect an animal is geriatric, as animals are very good at hiding any sign of weakness.
Other animals are “retired” from the visitor side of the zoo to allow them more quiet time. This is the case for 24-year-old Fireball, one of the zoo’s ocelots. Backstage, animals like Fireball get more personal attention from staff. Many of the animals also participate in proactive exercises with staff that will assist them in their advanced age.
“We do get to baby them when they’re in the back,” Schmidt said.
Staff may make changes to an animal’s diet as it ages. An animal may receive different nutrients and vitamins based on needs or softer food that is easier to chew.
Musculoskeletal problems, including arthritis, are common in many older animals. The ABQ BioPark administers joint supplements to any animals that are suspected to suffer from aging-related joint cartilage erosion. Such supplements can slow the progression of degenerative joint disease, but do not reverse the condition. The Zoo’s female Bactrian camel Betty and gorilla Huerfanita both receive joint cartilage supplements. At times, staff also administers anti-inflammatory/pain control medication to animals that appear to have discomfort moving around their habitats.
The ABQ BioPark’s goal is to lessen any discomfort and ensure the animal is not just existing, but thriving as long as possible.