Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Baby Howler Rescue Part 3 - Fear and Spirit in Wildlife Rehabilitation

Baby Howler Monkey Rescue (Part 3): Wildlife Rehabilitation is a challenging waiting game in which we try to minimize fear and maximize „spirit“

Thanks for your comments and for following the story of the baby howler, Mr. P, now finally named „Spartacus“. Animals in the Belize primate rehab program are named. While some argue that this is too much anthropomorphism, I think it makes it more personable and definitely more suitable to tell their story, then “Monkey Number 147”, or the likes. But that is just a side note.

As you probably realize I am experimenting with writing (I'm a vet after all, not trained to write). I appreciate any and all feedback. I sure appreciate the question for possibilities to support the cause with donations, as one of the reasons for my writing is awareness and the need for more support! I will see how to link in the Belize Wildlife Conservation Network site and use the blogs functions. Donations are definitely welcome!

I am still new to this blogging and realize that at some point I should maybe also go back and introduce myself further then „wildlife veterinarian dedicated to conservation as well as animal welfare“ and talk about the different efforts, the developing network and NGO hence non-profit organization? You tell me!

But for now I would like to focus on the „cause“ and case, and will just update you on the ongoing for baby Spartacus on the rough road to, hopefully, full recovery. To soothe your anxiety – in case you share this with me: He is in the primate rehabilitation program in northern Belize and he is doing reasonably well! Yet this baby is by far not yet „out of the woods“ of loosing his freedom, hand or life.

Since I, still, do not have a facility available to provide any „in-house“ care, the primate rehabilitation program is the best place in Belize to care for him. Such dedicated and professional persons, yet it is 5 h away! The primate program is perfectly established and set up to deal with uninjured/healthy, orphaned babies, mainly from the pet trade. But Spartacus is a different case! If it comes to it, I will give this baby monkey the final credit for tipping me from „I need to find big donors to build a wildlife hospital for the country of Belize“, to „I just have to start it myself“, and „small and resourceful“, as opposed to „large enough to accommodate all possible needs for the country from now until eternity and all state of the art". Stay tuned to see if my (small) loan is approved. Those who know me might guess right, that I am not necessarily a good candidate for credit. Not that I am a “credit card abuser” or anything like that! But, having worked in conservation, basically „in the field“, in Latin America, non-stop for the past 10 years and off and on since 1994, I have acquired no (financial) wealth. Yet, countless good experiences :)

Which brings me back: I currently receive daily updates on our baby monkey patient, and pictures. Thanks and big time Kudoz to Paul and Zoe for their amazing care with this extreme case. Another huge advantage of the primate program is that Spartacus can see the other monkeys there, and that perks up his spirits. The "spirit" is one of those crucial things in wildlife rescue and rehab. You just can’t put your finger on it, but it is the will to live, and survive, and fight for survival. If an animal looses this „spirit“ most times we loose the patient – those are sometimes very sad cases: when we can medically fix an animal, yet the fact that the wild animal can not bare to be held captive even temporarily while it heals, makes that we loose it.

Unfortunately for us humans trying to heal and or rehabilitate wild animals, keeping the „spirit“, often means that they fear and/or fight their rescuers and care givers. This in a case like Spartacus, with a nearly severed hand that was basically re-attached, makes things even more challenging. He is a baby after all and he needs to drink about every 3 hours. So every 3 hours he needs to be handled and convinced to feed, by a ...“monster“, to use a human analogy. Truly what Spartacus sees is a prime predator that wants to eat him. A predator likely got him into this situation to begin with!

Aside from the fact that him trying to bite and fight, which could injure the recently re-attached hand and lead to failure, there is the fear factor. As we learned in the Part 2 of the baby monkey’s story: humans can fall into so called "psychogenic" shock. Meaning: talk of amputation and looks of gruesome wounds, or to some people even just the sight of blood, can ultimately lead to: shock and, if untreated, death!

Fear is a strong trigger for the same psychogenic shock in our wildlife patients (and side note to vet students: dehydration often compounds that shock in rescued and transported animals). Some wild animals will die, just because of extreme fear while being handled. This is one of the main reasons why we restrain wild animals as little as possible and it is one reason why some animals can not adapt to be captive. The simple fact of human presence, artificial environment and captivity causes too much fear. Yet when they require regular treatments, or in this case, feedings, there is no way around handling and restraining (unless we wanted to give up and euthanize the patient, which we are not willing to do in this case). So, those are just some of the odds.

But we see hope at this point! Spartacus spirits are great. He loves to watch his peers (even though is seems to disgruntle him that he has to be in small confinement due to his severe injury) and he is slowly adjusting to being fed by the „human monster“. He might come to accept the fact that the monster does not want to disembowel him (to use Paul’s language) but just feed and give him some TLC (which he is starting to allow a bit now). Orphaned wildlife is a constant struggle between avoiding imprinting on humans and providing the necessary maternal care. Without this care most will not survive. So it is good to know that Spartacus seems to be following the general trend of orphaned babies received in the program: after a few days the babies accept the human as a temporary surrogate and stop to fight. His hand is very swollen yet the tissue is still looking good and it is day 4 post-OP. Until he fully settles in, every day is crucial, but we can see first signs of „mellowing“. Tomorrow is day 5, at which point I will really get my hopes up that we can save this monkeys life, and hopefully hand. And then his freedom, which will take up to several months of patience testing rehabilitation, before the ultimate assessment, whether he would be releasable, can be made.

Here I am asking for comments again! Let me know what you think?

While we wait for the continuation of this babies’ story, I could follow recommendation and start on Amy’s story:

Amy, a keel-billed Toucan, the national bird of Belize, was found on the ground, as a fledgling, with a severe injury (I guess most of my stories as a vet involve injuries...). While her parents were still close by and trying to help and feed her when she was found, she needed serious medical care to survive. She was rescued in the week after the death of Amy Winehouse, after whom she was named. Do you care to know why?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Injured Howler Monkey Rescue in Belize Part 2 - Surgery with surprise

Injured Baby Howler Monkey rescue in Belize – Part 2: „Mr. P’s“ surgery with surprising, human, side effect

Disclaimer for the faint of heart: this monkey had a very severe injury! Yet his story continues and we keep on hoping for the best.

About an hour after the first blog, the rescued monkey from PG, for now named „Mr. P“*, arrives in Central Farm with Paul and a volunteer.

Phew, the first step taken! Just for the ones new to the field: unfortunately in wildlife rescue we do sometimes receive animals, who do not survive transport and make sad „DOA“cases (dead on arrival). So I am happy to see him arrive alive! Yet he sits in fetal position, obviously depressed, which is a bad sign. As we gently lift him out of the tiny cardboard box, labeled with „injured monkey“from his air travel, it becomes clear that his arm is very severely injured and nearly entirely severed in the wrist. After a quick local anesthesia and further look, Paul and I ponder how to proceed.

While I often teach veterinary students, I rarely have had lay persons around in surgery and never for such a severe and gruesome injury. Usually the individuals, who deliver an animal, just wait outside, or come back later.

But, long story short: I had not really paid much attention to the third person, not from the medical field, in the tiny wildlife office, as Paul and I examine the injury and discuss the very high chance of having to amputate. Likely the reattachment of the 90-95% severed hand exceeds the possibilities of the very limited medical care available. As mentioned before, injectable anesthesia has to be used. With this risks are high; duration of anesthesia can not really be controlled well.

And did I mention that this monkey is probably barely 4.5 months old and weighs 610 grams?

Quickly the decision is made to anesthetize the monkey to assess under anesthesia if the hand can be kept and basically reattached or if it can not be saved. And just as the monkey is injected and returned to the box - so he can fall asleep without disturbance from us - and I gather all needed supplies and try to keep a handle on any possible complications fully focussed on the patient... I see, out of the corner of my eye, the volunteer, going down, to the ground, landing with an audible “thump”.

As I turn my attention to this non-medical person, who had spent the last 15 minutes in this minute space, with us discussing over the amputation of the hand of this baby while examining a gruesome injury with protruding bones and the likes... he is sitting on the ground, very dazed, yet fortunately with eyes open. I can see his blood circulation just wanted to collapse and he barely kept it going. Humans can go into shock just from the thought, or sight of things like this. Ooops to my surprise!

Fortunately the overwhelmed volunteer recovers rather quickly and we can focus on the animal patient again. Closely assessing the monkeys hand shows that, amazingly enough, all vital blood vessels on the lower (ventral) side of the arm remained intact. While the radius is fully shattered through the articulation, the ulna is mostly intact, yet the joint completely severed with one lateral tendon of the ulna remaining. The fingers are still well vascularized and the flexor tendons intact. I have seen and done a number of limb amputations. While this is definitely one of the most severe injuries to a wrist I have seen so far, it had been quickly found and brought to medical care. And the most difficult and vital structures on the lower side had remained intact and fingers still viable.

So with as little equipment as is available without a wildlife clinic I reattach his hand in two layers and stabilize the arm with a cushioned splint. As we are finishing with him we realize his temperature has dropped too much and we have to warm him back up. (annoyed/ing side note: I need a heating pad for all of my patients, who even in this tropical heat will suffer from hypothermia under anesthesia especially in major surgeries like this one). Paul lends body heat and the baby quickly comes back to normal temperature and deep post-anesthetic sleep.

We chat while anxiously awaiting for the baby monkey to wake up from anesthesia and it is a wonderful relief when he does. Then, after many tries, he lets me convince him to take some Pedialyte oral rehydration solution, first resisting, then hesitant and finally drinking with thirst, repeated droppers full!

It feels like a major battle won, but unfortunately Mr. P has many more hard weeks more to go, possibly months of recovery, before it could be attempted to reunite him with his family.

The next few days should show if the baby will survive and can keep the hand. We always hope for the best possible outcome, while we brace ourselves for a worst case scenario.

Has this tempted anybody’s curiosity enough to give a comment or ask for the continuation of Mr. P’s story? May be you are curious what this is we are talking about? Wildlife, medicine, rescue, rehabilitation and conservation in Belize? Does it matter?

Why do we do this? That is a different story!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wildlife rescue, rehab and conservation in Belize - Injured baby monkey - Part 1

I heard it once too much! I should share some words about what it is I do and care about.

"Noone knows what you do. So why should anybody care?" Just follow me one morning and beginning of one animal's story in rough, quickly composed words, about Be the judge and tell me! Should anyone care? Would you want to know how the story ends?

And, yes, I have been doing this work in wildlife rescue and conservation for years, but that is a different story.

I was woken up by the phone. That rarely ever happens! Usually my kids wake me up before anybody would call.

I look at the phone and it does not tell me who it is, but the number looks vaguely familiar. Three quarters awake I ponder if I silence it or if it might be „important“ (enough to rip me out of the all so rare deep sleep state) and my consience awakes „ you HAVE to answer your phone it is important to whoever is calling“...

Phone on ear, I quickly recognize Pauls voice: it’s about a Howler monkey, an injured one and a baby! Paul had had the „pleasure“ (excuse my questionable humor) of receiving the midnight call about a baby howler monkey found on the ground, screaming, in a rain storm, and obviously hurt on his arm at a resort in Punta Gorda. Paul was able to coach the concerned resort staff via the phone to bring the baby inside, warm it up and keep it safe and sound over night. Unfortunately the images of the injury shared via email show a severe laceration, open and cominuted fracture of the left lower arm with no use of limb. This would, without medical care, be a certain death sentence for this howler monkey, a fate which the rescuers did not want to accept.

Now the baby should be on its way to take the plane from Punto Gorda to Belize City, thanks to Tropic Air! Then it will travel from the international airport with Paul, who is himself coming from Sarteneja, close to the furthest northeastern tip of the country. Hopefully they will all arrive safe and sound in beautifull inland Cayo, on the western border to Guatemala, and see me, the wildlife vet. I do travel a lot to see my patients, to minimize the stress for them, but every now and then an animal has to come to me in my not yet really existing „clinic“, a 3 m x 4 m space, most efficiently used to squeeze in table, desk, shelves, storage and basic meds and tools.

And then we will have to see the actual extent of his injuries and hope to be able to set his broken bone and keep him through the healing process. We are fortunate to have the spezialized howler monkey rescue center at Wildtracks. The heart breaking part is that the baby’s mother was calling for it this morning. But it is not unheard of to try to re-unite this baby with its troup after completed healing.

Allthough it would be a miracle to succeed in so many steps, or?

First step after transport: anesthesia and surgery to assess and hopefully repair bones. Unfortunately this has to be done with the more risky injectable anesthesia, since we still need to aquire the funding to replace the old non-working anesthesia machine. But, call me crazy, I believe that one day we will have a proper set-up clinic with gas anesthesia and diagnostics!

And, may be with your help, we can get the word out there about our needs to better assist conservation of wildlife species in Belize?

We will keep our fingers crossed for the baby and you will see!?