Nokomis Hooting and Barking

by Jenny Kuhn (VM16)

Nokomis is an 11 year old Great Horned Owl. He is a permanent resident of the Wildlife Clinic, as he cannot be released into the wild (due to imprinting and other health concerns). The clinic is near dog kennels, and occasionally, you can hear barking through the clinic walls. Over the years, Nokomis has learned to bark like a dog! I was lucky to finally capture him hamming it up on video. Watch at the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uT0RBg20Rs&feature=youtu.be

 

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The thing about captivity is…

by Christine Mallo (VM16)

At the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic, our mission is to rehabilitate sick or injured wildlife back to the point where they can be released into their natural habitat. The rewarding emotions you feel after doing such is extremely exciting, and is part of what makes the clinic such a draw for students. I have only been a member of the clinic for over a year now, but my membership in it is something I can carry with me for the rest of my future career as a doctor. I advanced from team member to team leader between my first and second years, and have loved nearly all experiences encountered…except a few…

In the summer of 2013, the clinic was presented with a pretty interesting case, and an animal that not all of us have seen before, a Barn owl. Owls are considered raptors, in that they catch prey using the large talons that they possess. These talons can be very dangerous to handlers as well, so special precautions are taken to keep handlers safe. This particular owl was presented with a fracture in its left leg. Radiographs were done before any surgeries to determine how severe the break was. Luckily, this break was directly in the middle of a bone; the easiest kind to fix because no joints are involved. The members in the summer arranged to have orthopedic surgery performed to stabilize the bones into their proper locations, and to encourage healing. While this procedure is taxing on the animal’s body and lots of physical therapy is needed to keep the patient’s muscles strong, this is not an uncommon procedure in the clinic. The owl was placed on pain medication and anti-inflammatories to reduce the amount of swelling and potential pain associated with the fracture and surgery. Eventually the fracture healed but during this patient’s stay, the real problems occurred!

First off, when wild animals are in captivity, they have a hard time feeling fully comfortable. Although we humans tend to eat more when we are stressed, wildlife tend not to eat. Because of this, my team had to work to cut up and hand feed food to this owl, which is not an easy task! Trying to convince an owl that the food you’re giving it is AWESOME takes a lot of skill, but eventually the patient started to eat on his own. Also, we believe that by moving our patient to one of our larger flight cages, we made it feel like it was in a more natural setting. So far, two goals were accomplished! Our patient’s leg was healing, and it was feeling comfortable enough to eat on its own!

Then…something else happened! Owls are meant to sore and roam the skies freely, with plenty of room to spread their wings. Unfortunately, this bird accidentally banged its left wing on one of the walls of the enclosure on day and the resulting wound was severe enough to require twice daily treatments. Somewhat like our own dog or cat at home (or even ourselves!), when there is a scab, we have to pick at it. This is just what the Barn Owl did! Because he had a little lesion from banging his wing once, he started to pick and pick and pick at his wing to the point that it became very infected and we had to surgically intervene. The Zoo Med doctors had helped us throughout this entire process, but this is really where their expertise came as a huge help. Dr. Whittington was able to “debride” the area on the wing that became infected…twice! Debriding means that the unhealthy tissue is removed, to promote the healthier surrounding skin to heal across the wound. The second time this was done, Dr. Whittington actually sutured the healthy skin back together. After a few more cleanings, the wing was better! Three problems were originally on our list, all of which turned into three solutions!

After being positive that our patient was healthy enough to leave the critical care that we provide, we contacted the Illinois Raptor Center to send our bird to them for more a more intense flight therapy. This patient spent a total of 75 days in the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and over that time it lost muscle conditioning. If we were to send this patient into the “real world” right away, it may not survive due to being out of shape. At the Illinois Raptor Center, their teams can allot more space to each patient, really making sure that they build their muscles back to being strong and sturdy.

When all was said and done, my team was extremely proud of themselves for being the students fully responsible for the rehab of this accident-prone owl. For a lot of the team, it was their first time handling a bird of prey, and the lessons we learned along the way (myself included!) were incredible. The thing about wildlife is that while we may try our hardest to make their stays as short as possible, sometimes they introduce new problems along the way. But this is part of what our futures as veterinarians will be: problem solving and staying on our toes. It wasn’t always easy, but at the end of the day, we helped to save a life. Who could ask for more than that?

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A Second Chance at Flight

by Malky Weil (VM16)

What do you do when an animal comes in with feather damage but no other evidence of trauma? That was the question we asked when we received our Kestrel patient. She had extensive feather damage on her right wing, including broken feather shafts, and loss of primary feathers. She was unable to sustain flight. We took radiographs (x-rays) to see if there was further trauma not visible or palpable to us. We did not see any bone damage or soft tissue damage to the wing. Everything else on her physical exam was normal. Our one challenge was that we could not release her, although presumably healthy, because she could not fly.

We could send her to a rehabilitator and keep her there until she molted and grew in new primary feathers, but that could take up to a year. We were hoping to get her out sooner. So we decided, with the help of the veterinarians, to do a procedure called imping. Imping is a procedure where you find donor feathers, and implant them into the bird, giving them usable feathers to fly with. It seemed like a good idea. We found a deceased kestrel former patient that we could use as a feather donor.

To imp a feather, you cut the patient feather so there is no more damaged feather left, just the top of the shaft. Then you find something to use as an “imping splint”, often bamboo sticks. These fit into the feather shaft of both your donor bird and your patient. They may need to be whittled down to the appropriate size. You cut your donor feathers to the correct length, and then place the splints in them. You then place the splint in the donor feather shaft. You need to be very careful to be using the right number primary feather, since they all have different tasks that help with flight, and make sure your newly placed feather is at the right angle, so the bird will be able to use them for flight. Once you have fit them correctly, you then glue them in.

At that point, you let them dry, help the bird rebuild any muscle loss from lack of flight, and give them time to get used to the extra weight of the imped feathers. Then it’s time to flight test them. If they can fly well enough to escape predators and hunt, you can release them.

We just finished the imping procedure, and will wait and see if it was successful. Hopefully we will be able to send her on her way soon!

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Featured Endangered Wildlife Species

by Lauren Kane (VM16)

Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi)

The Grand Cayman Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) is endemic to the island of Grand Cayman and is one of the longest-lived species of lizards. Fewer than 15 animals remained in the wild by 2003, and this wild population was predicted to become extinct within the first decade of the 21st century. The species’ decline is mainly being driven by predation by feral pets (cats and dogs) and indirectly by the destruction of their natural habitat as fruit farms are converted to pasture for cattle grazing. Since 2004, hundreds of captive-bred animals have been released into a preserve on Grand Cayman run by a partnership headed by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in an attempt to save the species.

The Blue Iguana is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. In late 2012, the Blue Iguana Recovery Program estimated that the wild population had risen to approximately 750 individuals, and the IUCN subsequently downlisted the species from critically endangered to endangered. The Blue Iguana Recovery Program’s conservation strategy involves generating large numbers of genetically diverse hatchlings, head-startingthem for two years where their chance of survival in the wild is high, and using these animals to rebuild a series of wild sub-populations in protected, managed natural areas.This is accompanied by field research, nest site protection, and monitoring of the released animals. Restored sub-populations are already present in two non-contiguous areas—the Salina Reserve and the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.

For more information, please check out, http://www.blueiguana.ky/

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Working With Wildlife – My Top 5 Lessons Learned

by Stephanie Zec

Many hours volunteering at the Wildlife Medical Clinic (WMC) has made it my home, and my team of volunteers have become my vet-school family. As I approach the beginning of my fourth year, the transition to working in the teaching hospital will be bittersweet as I will have to leave the WMC. These are my top five wildlife lessons that I have learned from my time at the clinic.

1. Bigger is not badder.

Many of our volunteers become anxious when they are expected to work with an adult raccoon or an adult Great Horned Owl – the largest owl found in Illinois. In reality, they should be equally conscious of safety precautions when working with some smaller species. When we perform medical procedures on our resident birds, it is often times the kestrels that draw blood on our volunteers. Even smaller animals that do not appear intimidating can be dangerous. Despite taking the proper precautions, the most common bite injury in the Wildlife Medical Clinic is due to squirrels. So be careful if you find one!

2. Never underestimate the human-animal bond.

Kinkuna was our laughing Kookaburra resident bird. He was overweight, had a crippling foot malformation, and a laugh that could be heard from a mile away. Kinkuna was the first animal I ever tried to train using positive reinforcement to improve his quality of life. He quickly became my post-test companion, my lunch friend, and my ‘I just need to see an animal right now because school is making me stressed’ buddy. The clinic lost Kinkuna over a year ago, and it is still tough for me to walk into his old flight cage.

3. Animals are tough.

In the wild it is the weak that are preyed upon, so animals hide their injuries and illnesses.  My team once had a Merlin (a small falcon) that presented for a wing fracture. This animal was on its feet and would try to escape from us when we needed to catch it. Blood work revealed that this animal was so anemic and low on blood protein, it was miraculous that it was still alive. I have seen animals with fractures so ugly they make me cringe – yet that animal is barely showing any signs of pain.  I wish I had that level of pain tolerance.

4. Stress is a secret killer.

Did you ever notice that when you are stressed out, that is when the sickness comes? Physiologically, this is due to a little chemical known as cortisol. Stress causes an increase in cortisol secretion which then directly suppresses your immune system – always at the worst possible time.

For our wild animal patients, interaction with people is their worst nightmare. Now they are sick, stressed out in a foreign environment, and definitely do not want us handling them. I have seen doves die in people’s hands from being stressed and rabbits die within minutes after handling, due to no fault of the volunteer. If you ever find a wild animal, do not attempt to treat it. Please send it to a professional (like us). In the meantime, the best medication you can give a wild animal is putting it in a dark, quite area (like a shoe box for small birds and mammals) and leaving it alone until you can transfer it to someone with wildlife medical experience.

5. Communication is key!

My wildlife team that I am a co-leader of recently had the honor of treating a three year old female Bald Eagle. This poor creature had a wing fracture and a deep wound near the fracture site. This type of injury required intense medical care – which the eagle was less than thrilled about.  Eagles are nine pounds of anger with a six foot wing span. To restrain her and administer medication was a three person job. One person would blind her with a towel and grab her talons. Once she was safely pinned in her cage, the second person would come and “hood” her and hold her head so she couldn’t bite anyone.  The third person would then help maneuver the blanket to “burrito” the eagle, preventing her from unleashing her wings while we administered medications. If my team wasn’t communicating clearly and effectively with each other, someone could have been seriously injured. Instead, she was successfully sent to the rehabber and everyone was injury free.

 

 

 

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A Summer With The Owls

by Sarah Adams

“Just a pull a little tighter and you will complete that surgeon’s throw,” the manager explained as I completed my sutures for a laceration on a duck – yep that’s right, the first animal I learned how to suture on was a duck. Now as a vet student, I am very thankful for the experiences that I gained at the Wildlife Medical Clinic while spending summers there as an undergrad extern. The high volume caseload meant that there would always be a new challenge. Some of my most memorable cases include nursing two goslings back to health from an accident with fishing line, treating a box turtle that was hit by a car, an Eastern screech owl who needed eye drops, a fox kit with traumatic injuries, two orphaned bobcats from Louisiana, and a great horn owl with a fractured femur. Some of the more challenging cases include wrestling with a groundhog, an escape artist barn owl, and a notorious raccoon for treatments.

Some of my most interesting clinical experiences include giving intramuscular injections to baby red-eared sliders about the size of a quarter, tube feeding baby rabbits, bottle feeding fawns, and learning how to draw blood on birds. Learning how to do proper physical exams, write medical records, and record patient histories from the finders were valuable skills that will be useful no matter what area of veterinary medicine you explore.

From owls to turtles, rabbits to raccoons, I learned more than just clinical skills; I learned about public health, epidemiology, responding to medical emergencies, and educating the public about wildlife and the importance of conservation. Most importantly, working at the Wildlife Medical Clinic has taught me the power of collaboration in medicine. It was the knowledge and experience from the doctors and wildlife managers that helped make my experience truly unique. I learned that the knowledge that one doctor has can be different from another, and when that knowledge is combined the best treatment plan can be achieved. As of right now the Wildlife Medical Clinic has sparked my interest in emergency medicine; I look forward to seeing where else it takes me through my career in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

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Building a Relationship With Captive Wildlife

by Malke Weil

As resident coordinator, one of my jobs is to train our resident birds to make their interactions with us safe, stress free, and even enjoyable. Our newest member of the resident team is Thistle. She is an American kestrel who came into the clinic in the summer of 2012, with an injury of her left eye. She recovered, but lost the eye, and a one eyed kestrel cannot hunt adequately in the wild. As a patient, she was never afraid of us, she would rush to the front of her cage in anticipation of food, so it was decided that she was a good candidate for the resident program: non-releasable, and not afraid of people.

Once she joined the team, it was time to train her. All our birds are trained to enter a crate, step up on our gloves, and tolerate a basic physical exam, so we can work with them safely and without stress. We train with positive reinforcement, so our first step was finding her reward. She is very food motivated, so that was decided. We had to get her comfortable with taking food from us, so when we rewarded her, she would take it. We started by giving her food and staying nearby while she ate it. Wild animals feel vulnerable when eating, because they are not fully focused on their surroundings. So eating in front of you implies a trust. The next step was putting food closer to us so she would have to come closer to get it, and finally we had her come to our glove and take the food from us directly. She is an eager learner, so this step did not take long at all.

Then we got her comfortable going into her crate, that way, anytime we needed to transport her, she would comfortably comply. We fed her in her crate, and as she went it we said “crate”. Then we came up with a crate command, and every time she follows it, she gets a treat through the holes in the crate. Next step was to get her comfortable sitting on glove. We held food in our gloves and waited for her to come get it. We would hold onto the food so she would have to stay until it was finished. And sometimes she would stay long after she finished the meal. Then we knew she had reached that comfort level. Once she was coming to sit on the glove with or without food, we started jessing her. Jesses are ropes that go through anklets on their feet, so we can take them for walks without the danger of them flying away and injuring themselves. So to get her comfortable with that, we’d have a treat in the glove, and when she was distracted eating it, we slipped the jesses through her anklets. After a few times, she got used to that and allowed us to do it without the food distraction.

Once she had all those behaviors down, she could be a full time part of the resident team. She is a superstar at PR events, for any of you who have seen her, she is cooperative, and enjoys the attention she gets. She loves going on walks, stretching her wings out to feel the wind go through her, and more than anything, she loves one on one attention with our volunteers. She is a smart bird and is always eager to learn. The only time we have problems with her is when we are not working with her often enough. I feel so blessed that I got to be a part of her training team, and it makes me happy that although we could not give her back her old life in the wild, we were able to give her a new one that is full of happiness and enrichment.

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Bald Eagle 2013-1058

by Tanya Coty (VM16)

The Wildlife Clinic is currently host to an American treasure, a bald eagle, affectionately named George. George arrived at the clinic on October 17, 2013. Two U of I alumni veterinarians saw him by the side of the road near Springfield, after apparently being hit by a car. They made the long trip to bring him to the Wildlife Clinic where he has been receiving care ever since. Radiographs of George’s injured wing indicated that he had a fractured right humerus and a consultation with the ophthalmology department at the teaching hospital revealed that he is blind in his right eye.

Radiograph of George’s right wing. Notice the fractured humerus, the wing bone closest to the body.

George is currently recovering from his wing injury in the clinic until he is ready to go to a rehabilitation center. The Wildlife and Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery department repaired his fracture with a pin in the medullary cavity of his humerus and an external fixator. Once his wing has healed enough for the fixator to be removed, he can leave the clinic.

Caring for an eagle is a unique challenge for the students. While he only weighs 7.7lbs (3.5 kg), George is incredibly strong and equipped with powerful talons and a sharp beak. As a wild animal, he is less than cooperative with treatment. When he initially arrived and while recovering from surgery, he had to be handled twice a day to receive pain medication due to his injuries. The team has since scaled back on handling George to reduce his stress.

In spite of these challenges, George has made excellent progress with his recovery and will hopefully be transferred to a rehabilitation facility soon. There, he will build up strength in his muscles, which have atrophied from weeks of disuse. Birds that are kept in captivity for more than two weeks typically need time to build up their flight muscles before they can be released to the wild. This is especially important for birds of prey, like bald eagles, because they rely on soaring to hunt and survive. The rehabilitation staff will also assess his ability to hunt with his blind eye. Because he is a bald eagle, if George cannot be returned to the wild, he will stay as a “resident” animal in a wildlife center or zoo. This is because bald eagles are protected under federal law, even though they are no longer listed as an endangered species. The Wildlife Clinic has to have a special permit to hold bald eagles for medical care. If you come across an injured bald eagle, please contact US Fish and Wildlife Services or a wildlife rehabilitator. It’s also important to remember that it is illegal to keep feathers, eggs, or other “parts” of a bald eagle.

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