Since we are split between the 2 islands this year, I set-up the birds by my-self. In previous years, I have worked as part of a team. A zoo veterinarian and I would process the birds together. We would get the birds in and do a quick physical exam, blood sample (via a toenail clip), get a weight, take body measurements, and then put an individual metal leg band on each bird for identification.
This year, it is just me. I quickly get the birds weighed when they arrive and provide them with a band.
The health assessments generally take place a day or 2 after arrival so that the birds can settle in.
When the vet arrives, Deidre Fontenot from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we work together on a plan for the health checks.
We start with doing health assessments on the GOWE – today there are 12 that need checks. It is a fairly quick process:
4. Kiss on the head for good luck (a VITAL part of conservation).
The doves are a little bit more difficult. Many birds are what is called Sexually Dimorphic – this means you can tell the males from the females because they look different. In MAFD, the males and females look exactly the same. To bring birds back into the AZA population, we really need more females than males (we are hoping to bring back 12 hens for the AZA population).
So we have to figure out the gender of each bird we catch. We hoped that like some small bird species the males and females might look different until different light conditions. To figure this out, we took the birds in to a dark room (the bathroom) and put them under a Black Light – while they looked really in these conditions – there was not discernible difference.
So we had to go the surgery route. We prepared to determine the gender via laparoscopy, which is shinning a very bright light into the body cavity to find either testicles or ovaries.
We set up a small surgery area in one of the hotel rooms. It is poorly lit at best; but at least we feel like we can get the area mostly clean. It is not the best place I have assisted with surgery, but it will work for our needs.
The doves are provided anesthesia to make them sleep. A small incision is then made in their left side and the laparoscope is inserted in the body cavity. The vet looks for the gonads – a small area that looks like a grape cluster for the girls and 2 round marble like structures for the boys. Once we know the gender, we turn off the anesthesia and wake the bird up.
We get the process down to about 10 minutes per bird. We marked each holding cage with either a pink or a blue sticky note to label if the doves were male or female. After we trapped 14 doves, we ended up with 7 males and 7 females – so we are planning on taking 5 males and all 7 females back to AZA zoos.