The zoo ideal is for every new arrival to be fully healthy and raised by attentive, experienced parents. While that’s the case for many births and hatches—our baby Francois’ langur is one example—others require expert intervention from animal care experts.
That’s the case for a cinereous vulture chick that hatched at Regenstein Birds of Prey Exhibit on June 7. While our vulture breeding pair has reared two chicks in the past, they abandoned this year’s nest before their egg hatched, for reasons unknown. Our animal care staff stepped in to incubate the egg and later hand rear the new arrival.
The cinereous vulture chick sits on its nest at Regenstein Birds of Prey Exhibit, where the new arrival is being reintroduced to its parents.
The abandoned nest wasn’t the only hiccup though. During the vulture chick’s routine neonatal exam our veterinarians discovered a heart murmur. That means there’s an irregular noise associated with the function of the chick’s heart. While some murmurs can be innocent and cause no problems, others can be fatal with no warning. To better understand the chick’s status, our veterinarians are consulting with a veterinary cardiologist to examine the chick when it gets a little bigger.
Happily, it is getting bigger and meeting all of its developmental milestones. As a result, our animal care experts have begun the careful process of reintroducing the chick to its parents. Despite the fact they abandoned the nest, the adult vultures (seen together below) have been displaying a range of appropriate maternal and paternal behaviors, and parent rearing provides a nurturing and learning experience that even the best hand rearing can’t replicate.
We’re being very careful with the reintroduction. At the moment, the chick spends a few hours in its exhibit each day under the full-time watch of a zookeeper. At night, the chick is returned to an off-exhibit holding area. The goal is to slowly acclimate the little vulture and its parents until they’re once again living together full time.
It’s been a delicate process, but this vulture’s case highlights the planning that goes into animal care throughout the zoo. With nearly 900 animals under their watch, our experts manage a range of conditions and challenges, including heart issues.
The vulture chick isn’t the only animal with a cardiac concern. For example, great apes are susceptible to heart problems as they age, just as humans are. Diet and exercise are all part of the healthy-heart regimen for the zoo’s gorillas and chimpanzees, and when problems occur, medications are prescribed, just as for us.
Additionally, our veterinarians have initiated some state-of-the-art monitoring, utilizing remote EKG devices in our chimpanzees—including male Keo, the oldest male in an accredited zoo—to monitor for warning signs and consider options for earlier intervention.
No outcome is certain. But regular monitoring and expert care are part of the zoo package for every animal, from the youngest chick to our most senior citizen.