Whole Life Care
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 quality of life possible,” said Baird Fleming, ABQ BioPark Zoo deputy chief executive.
This includes everything from providing balanced diets, 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 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 certain animals as are some 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 BioPark care generally outlive their wild counterparts due to better nutrition, immersive habitats, appropriate social groups and proactive veterinary care.
Special Care for Geriatric Animals
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 Fleming.
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.
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.
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 gorilla Huerfanita receives joint cartilage supplements. At times, staff also administers anti-inflammatory/pain control medication to animals that appear to have discomfort moving around their habitats. Zoo staff help Irene the elephant manage her arthritis through a special exercise program.
The ABQ BioPark’s goal is to minimize any discomfort and ensure the animal is not just existing, but thriving as long as possible.