Elizabeth Dale, Germany, June 11, 2012

Day 2 in Hannover:  TiHo to Zoo!

We began the day with a visit to Dr. Hoenig’s alma mater, the charming if difficult to pronounce Tierӓrztliche Hochschule, affectionately known as “TiHo” for short.  Founded in 1778 and one of the oldest veterinary schools in Europe, TiHo is a uniquely independent university of veterinary medicine with an extensive organization of 19 Institutes, 6 clinics, 3 specialty areas and 2 field stations.  The old campus is a picturesque collection of brick buildings, circa the 1920s, which consist of the cattle clinic, several laboratories, the former equine clinic, and former student dormitories, all surrounded by a wall, creating a cozy village-like setting.  There is also a new complex just a couple kilometers away and a teaching farm in Ruthe.

At the new campus, we were met by the gracious Dr. Andrea Tipold, vice president for teaching.  Dr. Tipold shared with us the history and structure of the university as well as insight from her own career in veterinary medicine.  TiHo enrolls over 2,000 students of which 1.546 are veterinary students in the 5 ½ year program directly following high school, 55 are in a master’s program and 869 are pursuing doctorates in specialized subjects.   Similar to the U.S., admission is highly competitive with over 1,500 applicants vying for only 260 spots per year.  The student to faculty ratio (1:5) and female to male ratio (~85:15) is also similar as are the most commonly underserved areas –research and food animal medicine.  Much to our envy however, the students only pay ~ €1,ooo/year, with the rest of the tuition subsidized by the state.  Dr. Tipold, who originally did her thesis on colic in horses, is now a professor of neurology in the center for systems neuroscience with research concentrations in neuroimmunology, steroid-responsive meningitis and Schwann cell transplantation for spinal cord trauma.

Following our chat with Dr. Tipold,  the inimitable Dr. Hansjoachim Hackbarth gave us a broad-ranging lecture on animal welfare in Germany and Europe.   The Institute for Animal Welfare and Behavior, separated into an institute for farm animals and one for pets, horses, and laboratory animals, does research primarily for horses, environmental improvement for lab animals, and on dog behavior, specifically aggression.  One of the center’s and Dr. Hackbarth’s recent successes is the creation of a virtual animal welfare center (accessible at: www.animalwelfarecenter.org) and the passage into law of a dog owner qualification test –ensuring a basic knowledge of nutrition, behavior, and husbandry for any prospective dog owners.

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Dr. Hackbarth gave us an extensive overview of the history of animal welfare from the hieroglyphs of the codex Hammarabi through the highlights of its development in Germany.  The basis of the modern welfare act in Germany is the “fulfillment of needs and avoidance of harm,” as decribed by the Swiss biologist Tschanz, and it protects the lives and well-being of animals under the care of humans.  By the end of this year, the protection of life will extend to the fetus in the last trimester of gestation. We also had an engaging discussion on ethics in medicine covering the different areas of ethics (descriptive, normative, and reflective or methaethics), morals and mores), and how to find the balance between extremist on the emotion end of the spectrum and legal and scientific animal welfare.  We also discussed recent hot topics within the EU such as the debate over castration of piglets (soon to cease entirely).

Following a hearty lunch in the vet school’s cafeteria –options included stuffed peppers, soy cordon bleu, and the delicious Southern German specialty “Spӓtzle” (a short pasta, which literally translates as “little sparrow,” served with sautéed onion and cheese (Emmenthaler I believe))- we headed to the Hannover Zoo (English site at: http://www.zoo-hannover.de/?L=1).

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At the zoo, our amiable and attentive tour guide was Dr. Maya Kummrow, a swiss veterinarian with experience in Dubai, Tufts University, and the University of Guelph and Toronto Zoo.   With the help of one other veterinarian and one tech (both part-time), Dr. Kummrow cares for the impressive collection of over 3,000 animals consisting of 250 different species, mostly mammals.  With infectious enthusiasm, Dr. Kummrow told us about the newly formed European College of Zoological Medicine, WAZA (the World Association for Zoos and Aquariums), and the wild and often unpredictable world of zoo medicine.  We discussed the WAZA goals for zoos, which include entertainment and education, research and ex situ breeding, and how these goals are carried out in the seven different themed areas of the Hannover zoo:  Zambezi (African savannah), Gorilla Mountain, Yukon Bay (Canada), Jungle Palace (India/Asia), Outback (Australia), Mullewapp (children’s petting zoo) and Meyer’s Farm (traditional Lower Saxony).

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We first visited the solitary and bellicose endangered Black Rhino and Dr. Kummrow explained the difficulty in dealing with dangerous and often sadly, less fashionable (thus less profitable) species in the zoo and conservancy setting.  As we progressed through the zoo on our private tour we discussed the benefits and challenges of multispecies exhibits and natural habitat separations such as dry ditches.  Multispecies exhibits such as the African savannah area with Eland gazelles, Thompson Gazelles and Zebras provide important enrichment for the animals but at times also leaves them susceptible to cross-species pathogens, such as the alpha herpes virus, Equine Herpes Virus type I, which killed several Thompson gazelles peracutely and then wiped out the zoo’s guinea pigs after it was shed by the clinically unaffected zebras.   The zoo’s main conservancy focus is on North African species and it’s had spectacular success developing a hatching and brooding protocol for the red-necked ostrich and a breeding program for Addax antelope.  Also unique to the zoo is a pride of impressive Barbary lions (hunted to extinction in the wild), including two playful adolescent cubs.

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In the zoo’s small but well-equipped clinic, Dr. Kummrow shared insight on the difficulty of working with wild and/or extremely large animals, the importance of expert resources such as the clinicians at the nearby vet school, the necessity for flexibility and improvisation.  She also shared with us several entertaining anecdotes that illustrated how each case is always a learning experience whether it is orthopedics in wallabies or color-indicated anesthesia in chameleons.

In the Canadian exhibit we learned about neonatal care of the sensitive Caribou. We also saw fearsome timber wolves, jovial polar bears diving in their pool, and the antics of the sea lions.  Left to explore the zoo before dinner, we made our way through the remaining exhibits catching glimpses of the tigers and leopards as well as the world record-setting 5 elephant calves and their cows.  After rounding off the evening with a walk with the wallabies, we had dinner at the traditional Gasthaus Meyer und Biergarten (Meyer’s guesthouse and beer garden) where the drei reibekuchen (potato pancakes) and weizen bier dunkel (dark wheat beer) were excellent.

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