Updates on a few of our Senior Animals
Just like humans, animals can have some health challenges as they get older. Muscles get stiff. Arthritis can set in. And, often times, blood pressure needs to be regulated. There are good days and some not-so-good days, too.
Thanks to regular check-ups, scientifically-designed diets, dental exams, exceptional care and good genetics, the Zoo’s animals tend to age very well and many live well past their median life expectancies. The quality of life of these animals is a priority, and they are all closely monitored and cared for.
Over the last several months, we’ve been honoring our senior animals by telling their stories in a Waterhole feature, “The Golden Years.” We will continue to tell their stories in the upcoming months, but we wanted to give an update on a few of our seniors who’ve recently had some changes to their heath.
Angie, African lion
Angie is the Zoo’s African lion matriarch. At 19 years old, she’s surpassed the median life expectancy of a captive lion by more than two years, and outlived her wild counterparts by five. She’s currently on a quality-of-life watch, which means keepers are monitoring seven key indicators, including healthy appetite, social interactions, moving normally and showing interest in her surroundings.
“Angie is still interacting socially with her daughter, Zwena, and is very interested in enrichment items, especially rolling in zebra poop,” Dina Bredahl, Animal Care Manager, said. “She recently discovered the outdoor exhibit’s cave. This is a sign that she continues to make progress with her comfort level in that space.”
Bredahl explained that these are all good indications that Angie’s quality of life is good, but a recent and brief decline in her health make her cautious about how long Angie may have.
“She stopped eating, was vomiting and seemed a bit unstable on her feet,” Bredahl said. “We called vet staff, and went through all of the quality of life indicators.”
The Zoo’s veterinarian team started special treatment on Angie immediately.
“Angie is currently in what we would consider hospice care,” Dr. Eric Klaphake, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Veterinarian, said. “She is currently taking a blood pressure management medication and an anti-inflammatory steroid.”
Her condition improved greatly in just a few days, but she will continue to be monitored by keeper staff.
“Angie participates in a number of husbandry training behaviors that are very beneficial for us to monitor her health,” Dr. Klaphake said. “They are able to draw blood from her tail, which helps us watch for kidney disease, and they weigh her regularly.”
Klaphake said that just like an older domestic cat, geriatric lions frequently have kidney failure, but that they haven’t seen any signs of that in Angie.
“If she had a few bad days in a row and fluids and medication didn’t help, we’d have to make a very difficult decision.” Bredahl said. “In the meantime, we’re admittedly spoiling her with all her favorite meats – steak, pork and chicken. Her new favorite treat is whipped cream from a can, so we give her that, too.”
Animal keepers also let Angie decide where she wants to spend her time, which is frequently in the Lion Relaxation Room. You can pick out Angie by her lighter fur.
Wicket, Nile hippo
Wicket is the newest, but eldest, Nile hippo at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. She arrived at the Zoo in 2012. At 44 years old, she’s experiencing signs of old age including arthritis, cataracts, a few loose teeth and, most noticeably, skin abscesses. She, like Angie, is on a quality-of-life watch.
“Wicket hasn’t felt well a few days this month,” Roxanna Breitigan, Animal Care Manager, said. She’s been slow to shift out of the pool and seems stiff when moving around. She’s also had a few skin abscesses that have ruptured.”
Wicket’s age makes her prone to skin sores.
“We put glycerin on her every day to keep her skin hydrated,” April Allen, Lead Aquatics Keeper, said. “After that, we clean areas where she needs it with chlorhexidine, a type of soap, and then put on ointment to protect sensitive areas.”
The Zoo’s veterinarians also have Wicket on medications that help with her aging ailments, including antibiotics, an anti-inflammatory pain medication, and a medication called lubrisyn, which aids join health. Keepers help the veterinarian team monitor Wicket’s health by getting regular weight measurements on her and by taking photos of her so they can make sure her body condition isn’t changing. Despite aging issues, she has a good appetite and still enjoys getting her favorite foods – pineapple, wet alfalfa and popcorn. She also loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which is how keepers give her medication.
“We are giving Wicket the highest level of care, making her comfortable, and letting her decide where she wants to spend her day,” Breitigan said. “Lately, she’s been spending a lot of time in the outdoor pool or sleeping in the sun.”
You can see Wicket in Aquatics, where she alternates with our other two hippos between the outdoor and indoor exhibit.
To read more stories from The Waterhole, or to keep up with the latest news, events, and behind the scenes happenings at the Zoo, sign up to receive e-newsletters: http://www.cmzoo.org/aboutZoo/pressBox/waterhole.asp.