Student's workplace a zoo

February 08, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - There is a fine line between the amount of anesthesia needed to prepare a bird for surgery or a taxidermist.

"Birds are very tricky. A half a percent difference can mean they're flying off the table" or dead, said Laura Curley, 21, a Wilson College senior majoring in veterinary medical technology.

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Fortunately, Curley never crossed that line with any of the exotic animals she worked with last summer during a two-month internship at the Louisville (Ky.) Zoological Center.

Administering anesthesia to a Siberian tiger, puma or wart hog poses different challenges - to the human as much as the animal, she said. "You just can't walk up and inject them," the York, Pa., woman said.


Knocking out the big cats and other potentially dangerous animals often involves an anesthetic administered with a blow dart, she said.

After the animals were put under, Curley had to monitor them to make sure they didn't awaken during the middle of a procedure.

The skin of wart hogs "Lucy" and "Fred" was too thick and tough for a dart gun. Curley said she had to jab them with a hypodermic on the end of a pole while "they're lunging at you all the time."

For a Basilisk lizard with a tumor on its tail, a surgical glove had to be rigged to the anesthetic mask to administer the proper amount of gas. Curley said reptiles and amphibians were among the most nerve-racking to put under, since they often quit breathing for long periods of time under anesthesia.

The lizard had to have its tail amputated, but Curley said the appendage grows back over three or four months.

It may sound glamorous, but much of what Curley did she described as routine laboratory work, such as blood tests and fecal examinations.

Scheduled to graduate in May, Curley said her goal is to work in zoo medicine. She has applied for internships after graduation to either the White Oak Conservation Center in Florida, or the Milwaukee County Zoo.

"Those are the only two that offer either pay or housing," she said. Her internship last summer was paid for in part by a grant from the Wilson College Alumni Association.

During her internship, Curley said she worked with everything from rats to elephants. Because she has pet rat, she was assigned duties in rat "behavior modification" so one could be handled by children in a zoo wildlife program.

Her work with the pachyderms included "trunk washes" to check for tuberculosis.

As Curley explained it, the elephants' trunks are filled with a saline solution. A bag is then placed over the trunk to collect mucous.

"Sometimes they don't wait until you get the bag over the trunk and they blow it all over you," she said.

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