Saturday, January 25, 2003

Doctor keeps busy at Cleveland's zoo

300 species make vet's job interesting

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - Dr. Chris Bonar quickly locates the marble-sized cancerous growth in his patient's abdomen.

He can remove the growth, but a hysterectomy is needed to ward off future problems. With a few deft slices of the scalpel, he removes the offending tissue along with the ovaries.

The procedure is not taking place in one of Cleveland's medical centers. The patient is an African hedgehog and Dr. Bonar is a veterinarian for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. He and his assistants are charged with protecting the health of more than 300 species, from aardvarks to zebras, who live in the 170-acre complex.

The diversity of species and ailments means that Dr. Bonar routinely faces medical challenges for which there are no standard procedures.

"Although some of the medicine is becoming well-defined, every day I am breaking new ground," he said.

Dr. Bonar said his most important job is keeping detailed medical histories of every creature.

Every animal that dies receives a full autopsy. The data is important to Cleveland and other zoos in learning to care for their valuable collections.

There rarely is a dull moment for Dr. Bonar and the veterinary staff.

During an exam, a mountain paca stopped breathing due to the anesthesia, and Dr. Bonar had to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the animal.

Anesthesia is the most dangerous part of most surgeries because the medical staff cannot take preliminary tests before anesthesia that are standard for humans.

"If it is a man-eating carnivore, I can't even take its pulse without anesthetizing it."

Dr. Bonar also said animals suffer from their own bravado.

"They really try hard not to show signs of being sick. That's how you survive in the wild, but it makes my job more difficult," Dr. Bonar said. "Often, by the time an animal is showing signs of illness, it's really in danger."

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