Gators and Tigers and Bears – OH MY!
Although I have a strictly Mobile Equine practice, I am occasionally called upon by traveling circuses, zoos, and private wildlife sellers to write health certificates for interstate transport of some rather interesting animals.
In most cases this involves examining wild animals so a thorough physical is often not possible. I typically will observe the animal in its environment, looking for appropriate activity, appetite and interaction with other animals in their habitat. I also check for things like clear eyes and a healthy hair coat. The proverbial bright eyed and bushy tailed. I also examine any medical records the facility might have on hand. All of this usually will give me a pretty good indication that the animal is healthy.
We have a small local zoo here in Tallahassee that often has guest animals for a few months that then need health certificates to be transported back home. Recently I checked over several South American animals that were on temporary loan at this zoo. They had a Two Toed sloth, two macaws, several tortoises, 4 red rumped agouti, and a guan. I had never even heard of some of these animals. They were all together in the same habitat and were living together in perfect harmony. Sun bears and ruffed lemurs are some of the other animal that I have had a chance to examine at this facility.
Once I was asked to do health certificates on some tigers and elephants that were traveling through town with a small circus. The tigers were in cages and all appeared to be slick and shiny. They were wrestling with each other and scarfing down the meat that was offered to them. They looked pretty healthy to me.
Next I examined the elephants. There were four of them in a 50 foot diameter round pen that was constructed of rebar pounded into the ground about 12 feet apart with one strand of white electric fence tape strung about 4 feet off the ground all the way around. I commented to the keeper that “the electric fence tape must really pack a high voltage wallop to keep the elephants contained.” He laughed and told
me that the white tape was just a visual restraint—it was not electrified. So a one inch strand of white tape is the only thing that was keeping these elephants from downtown Tallahassee. “Yep, pretty much”
Fortunately the elephants did appear to be pretty docile. They were being cleaned up while I was there. This was accomplished by the elephant being given a command to lie down on its side and the groom hopping up on him with a push broom and sweeping away. Another command and the elephant flipped over to get the other side done. The elephants seemed to enjoy the process.
Another time I had to write a health certificate for some trained bears that were performing at the State fair. When I arrived to examine them they were all in their cages napping (hibernating?). I was a little concerned about waking the bears but I wanted to see them “in action”. This was not a problem. The trainer shook a box of milk bone dog biscuits and those bears were front and center begging for a treat.
Then there were the health certificates on the two alligators that were being sold and transported to Alabama. They were hanging out in a shallow pool inside a four foot chain link fence in this guy’s back yard. They were totally immobile, not even blinking. I needed to make sure that they were at least alive so I asked the seller to “poke them with a stick”. He was like, “are you sure?” Yes I am sure. So he poked them with a stick and yes they were definitely alive!
I often dread getting a call to do health certificates on exotic animals but it usually turns out to be kind of fun and definitely makes for a different and interesting “farm call.”