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Melbourne Zoo innovation leads to giraffe medical breakthrough

Melbourne Zoo innovation leads to giraffe medical breakthrough
December 8, 2019

Innovative thinking from keepers and vets at Melbourne Zoo has resulted in a new technique to help monitor the dental health of one of the Zoo’s ageing citizens - a 23-year-old Giraffe named Twiga.

The success is a combination of newly-designed X-ray equipment, months of dedicated training and the development of a special bond between keeper and Giraffe.

Melbourne Zoo Carnivores and Ungulates Keeper Georgie Greig said obtaining dental X-rays of the towering animal meant that keepers and vets were able to secure some very important information, advising "we’re so excited that we are able to get these images. It provides us with an overall idea of Twiga’s dental health and insights that enable us to provide the best possible healthcare for her.”

With training Twiga approached and voluntarily held steady and in position beside an X-ray stand, enabling vets to take a side-on X-ray with their portable device. Twiga then received a treat, and the process was repeated multiple times allowing vets to secure various images.

Noting that the procedure was the result of months of hard work to develop new skills and trust with Twiga, Greig added "with a tall animal like a Giraffe it can be difficult to find a way to take these X-rays. But Twiga was an absolute superstar. She had complete choice over the situation, meaning she could move away from the platform at any time and was in control of the entire procedure herself.”

Melbourne Zoo Head of Veterinary Services Dr Michael Lynch said training Giraffes to voluntarily participate in X-rays had major benefits, noting "without training, Twiga would have needed to go under general anesthetic, which is a high-risk procedure for any animal, particularly an old Giraffe. So what the keepers have been able to achieve here is fabulous.”

Dr Lynch added it was very important to monitor the dental health of all animals, including older Giraffes as their teeth tend to wear out in old age.

He concluded “it’s important for us to see if Giraffes have worn teeth, or if they have a dental disease like inflamed gums or impacted teeth. When teeth wear they can move, and food can get caught between them, often resulting in a process of inflammation.

“We’ve identified that Twiga has some worn teeth, so we’ll look to take further X-rays in the coming months to pro-actively monitor her dental health.”

Twiga’s voluntary X-ray procedure is just one example of the whole-of-life care that staff provide for all animals at Melbourne Zoo. Whole-of-life care involves high quality physical and psychological healthcare, housing and management of social groupings.

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