ZOO NEWS: Planning for the worst but …

There are times when things that should be so easy can get complicated in a matter of minutes and the best that one can do is to plan for the worst but hope for the best. This couldn’t be truer than when dealing with animals giving birth. Most of the time, Mother Nature takes charge and there is no reason for human intervention. But for those births that don’t go as they should, we often have only minutes to decide for intervention if we are going to save the mother and/or her offspring.

Mostly, the zoo has been blessed with healthy moms producing healthy offspring. Maternal instincts kick in and a once clueless female all the sudden becomes the best mom we could ask for. When we know an animal’s history, we look at the possibilities that could go wrong. When the Amur tiger, Zoya, gave birth in 2022, we weren’t sure if she would care for her cubs. Her mom didn’t and she only survived by transferring her to another zoo with a female tiger that recently gave birth, and she accepted her. The staff had to have plans in place in case she followed her mom’s pattern.

Now, as we discuss the possibility of lion cubs, the staff is once again challenged with the animal’s history and what could possibly go wrong. Of the two female African lions, Ilola is the only one that can get pregnant. Tadala arrived with a birth control implant. With reports of the lions breeding, it is critical that the zoo prepares for the inevitability of having lion cubs born sometime this winter. Normally, that would be great news, however, Ilola’s mom could not deliver her cubs naturally and required surgery to deliver them. Ilola’s mom could not be delivered naturally, and she too was delivered surgically. So, for whatever the reason Ilola’s mom and grandmother could not deliver naturally, we must be ready for the case that Ilola can’t deliver her cubs without surgical intervention.

To make it even more challenging for the staff, if she is pregnant and her delivery date is during the winter, all the lions must be kept inside because of the cold limiting staff’s ability to have multiple dens to use in case of an emergency. This is why we plan. If Ilola cannot deliver naturally and we must intervene, we will need to immobilize Ilola to perform the surgery and pull the cubs. If all that goes well, the staff will have to have a space within the building to take care of the cubs while Ilola heals from her surgery. The cubs will require around the clock feeding and care meaning the need to rotate staff to care for them 24-hours a day until Ilola has healed up. At that point, we will look at plans for reintroducing the cubs to Ilola, a first-time mom, and hope that she accepts them back as her own.

There is no such thing as easy when working with animals and a lot of hoping for the best. The key to our success thus far has been having a plan in place to address all the possibilities and hoping we don’t need them.


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