Monkey World provides a sanctuary for many apes and monkeys and a large part of the care offered to these animals is the usually unseen veterinary programme. As a visitor to Monkey World you may not see any evidence of veterinary care, but rest assured it is there and constantly under review. Dramatic veterinary interventions are rarely required which is largely a result of our emphasis on preventative medicine. Some details of our veterinary programme are given below.
Health Screening for New Arrivals
Monkeys and apes are susceptible to many of the diseases that afflict man – particularly those caused by infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. Given that many of the animals that live at Monkey World have been rescued from poor circumstances in which they have had a lot of contact with people, there is every chance that they would have come into contact with human infectious diseases. Therefore, any new animals are put through a period of quarantine and disease screening. We take this very seriously as some infectious diseases could spread very rapidly through our primate groups, potentially causing serious illness and even death.
Each primate entering Monkey World undergoes a range of procedures during the quarantine period to establish its health. Procedures conducted include the following:
- Full clinical examination under a general anaesthetic, including an assessment of dental health, age and weight.
- Comprehensive haematology and serum biochemistry profiles.
- Tests for tuberculosis (TB), HIV and related viruses, Hepatitis B and C.
- Tests for parasites and potentially harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, carried in the gut.
- A serum sample is taken for long-term frozen storage.
- A microchip transponder implanted under the skin to permanently identify the animal.
- Appropriate vaccinations are given to initiate or continue the animal’s immunisation protocol. The apes at Monkey World are vaccinated against tetanus, polio, measles, and influenza.
Ongoing Health Programme
Health screening is not just for new arrivals as every animal undergoes health checks throughout its life. These regular checks include:
- Daily assessment by experienced keeping staff of physical and behavioural condition.
- Tests for parasites and pathogenic bacteria in the gut at frequent intervals (i.e. faecal samples).
- Regular reviews of vaccination programmes.
- A full clinical examination whenever the animal is anaesthetised.
Another aspect of the animals’ ongoing health programme is a continual review of diets and enclosure and house design. We are constantly learning about the nutritional and behavioural requirements of the many species of primate at Monkey World, and so we are constantly changing and improving our husbandry standards.
At Monkey World each animal house is equipped with disinfectant footbaths, boot brushes, and specific overalls and boots that are used in only that house. Keepers use gloves at all times and face masks if colds are prevalent.
Comprehensive medical records are maintained electronically for every animal at the park.
Keeper Health Care
There would be little point in implementing a comprehensive veterinary care programme for the animals if keeping staff were not in good health. Our apes and monkeys can catch many of the same viruses and illnesses as we can, therefore, the keepers also undergo health screening when they first arrive and are subject to an ongoing health programme throughout their employment. This is also one of the reasons why we do not allow the public to come into contact with, or feed, any of the primates at the park. We are particularly careful to ensure that keepers are kept up to date with a comprehensive range of vaccinations and that they do not carry harmful gut parasites or bacteria that they could spread to the animals. Special attention is also given to personal hygiene, which reduces the possibility of keepers spreading infectious disease to the animals and the risk of keepers contracting infectious disease from the animals. Any keeper who is ill does not work with the animals.
Special Veterinary Interventions
We aim to keep our animals as healthy as is humanly possible by a combination of good environmental conditions, a balanced diet, regular health screening and excellent keeper observation and care. However, just like us, animals sometimes get ill and require medical attention. Typical examples of the sort of problems that we see from time to time include:
- Broken teeth (requiring specialised dental surgery – extractions, root fillings etc).
- Wounds inflicted by other animals.
- Respiratory infections.
- Intestinal infections.
- Cataracts in older animals.
- Arthritis in our older residents.
To assist in the diagnosis and treatment of our apes’ ailments, Monkey World has a fully equipped hospital complex on site. The hospital houses an operating theatre, prep area and small lab facility to allow the veterniary team to carry out tests, x-rays and other medical necessities.
Where healthy adult male and female primates are kept together there is always a good chance that they will breed! For some species (such as the woolly monkeys and the slow loris, who are part of breeding programmes) every effort is made to ensure that breeding will occur, but for others it is essential that we prevent breeding or at least control which individuals can breed and how often. Some primates at Monkey World have had babies previously and been unable to care for their young, which leaves Primate Care Staff to hand rear them. This is a situation the park is keen to avoid. Therefore, we have had to give considerable thought to birth control for our residents. As in humans, many types of birth control can be used in non-human primates. Those employed at Monkey World include:
- The contraceptive pill
- Intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD)
- Ovariectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries)
- Hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus)
Role of Anaesthesia
Very few non-domestic animals are sufficiently co-operative to allow a vet to carry out detailed examinations or treatments without a general anaesthetic. Of course, general anaesthetics are also required for any surgery in exactly the same way as they are in people. Our consultant veterinarian has made a speciality of ape anaesthesia and we have a wide range of anaesthetic drugs to choose from which allows us to tailor the anaesthetic to suit a situation and a particular animal.
We are confident that if an animal requires an anaesthetic it will receive the best available. However, it is necessary to appreciate that no anaesthetic (for an animal or human) is entirely risk free, and all attempts are made to minimise their use. To this end, Monkey World has devoted considerable keeper time and effort in conditioning some of our animals to accept minor veterinary procedures without anaesthesia. All of the chimpanzees and orang-utans are now trained (through operant conditioning) to allow our staff to examine various parts of their bodies on a simple command. These include:
- Examination of hands and feet.
- Visual examination of teeth.
- The use of a stethoscope on their chest.
- External examination of ears.
- Temperature reading with an ear thermometer.
- Palpation of the air sac.
Simple, non-irritant injections such as vaccines can also be given to some of our apes that are conditioned to present their upper arm for the purpose. This procedure also allows us to read the microchip transponders.
Veterinary “Outreach” Programmes
Not only does Monkey World use a comprehensive veterinary programme in the park, but it also provides veterinary support for some of the foreign projects and organisations with which it is involved. This usually requires the active participation of our consultant vet, which can only happen with considerable financial and logistic support from Monkey World. Examples of these “veterinary outreach” programmes have included:
- Veterinary support for Simon and Peggy Templer’s Spanish “beach-chimp” rescue centre outside of Barcelona, Spain.
- Extensive veterinary training for staff at the Pingtung Rescue Centre for Endangered Wild Animals, Taiwan.
- Veterinary assessment and care for animals during rescue operations in more than a dozen countries.
- Assistance and training of veterinary staff at Kaliningrad Zoo in the Russian Federation.