Monday, September 8, 2014

Do not feed the animals AND free epidemics course

Anton the polar bear in happier days.

This weekend the story about the Great Dane that had 43.5 socks removed from its gastrointestinal tract has gone nuts all over the net, but foreign bodies (or FBs as they are known in the biz – things that get inside animals or people that shouldn’t be there) are not just a dog thing. They’re really common in all kinds of animals and usually spell trouble. Birds swallow objects containing lead and zinc which lead to heavy metal toxicity, cats can eat string which can wreak havoc on the gut, and even animals in zoos will ingest things that fall into their enclosures.

Earlier this year I reported on the death of Anton, a polar bear at Wilhelma Zoo, who died due to complications from an intestinal foreign body. Someone dropped something into the enclosure. It wasn’t the first time. 

Despite major efforts by the zoo, including an electric fence around the enclosure, a number of objects had fallen into the enclosure over the past 20 years. These include, according to the zoo, about 200 children’s shoes, around 50 baby’s dummies per year, hats, cameras, mobile phones and spectacles. The sorts of items one (or one’s offspring) might drop when leaning over to get a better look at an animal.

Just some of the foreign material recovered from Anton's gastrointestinal tract.
But sometime in January, someone dropped a backpack and a jacket in there (you’d think you’d notice your bag was missing at least) and weeks later Anton succumbed to peritonitis secondary to a linear foreign body. When you do visit zoos and wildlife parks, remember the sign “do not feed the animals” also means “don’t drop inanimate objects into the enclosure” as these can be subject to oral investigation.

FREE course on epidemics & infectious diseases

If you’re interested in infectious diseases, zoonoses and public health, Coursera is offering a free course on “Epidemics: the dynamics of infectious diseases” from September 29, taught by academics from the University of Pennsylvania.