Shrimp: From the Mangrove Forests of Ecuador to Your Plate

October 08, 2018

By Zoe Koestel, Intern, Institute for Conservation Medicine

Have you ever wondered how, exactly, that shrimp ended up on your plate? Chances are, it came from a shrimp farm in a coastal country. Aquaculture has grown faster than any other food producing industry in history, and as we struggle to feed a growing human population, aquaculture becomes increasingly relevant. As part of my veterinary public health education, I worked as an intern with the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine (ICM). During my internship at the ICM, I ventured to the southern part of Ecuador, near the Peruvian border, to work alongside Gober, a shrimp farmer living outside the town of Santa Rosa. While there, I descended into the magnificent mangrove forests to observe the aquaculture process required for every shrimp that ends up in someone’s cocktail.

All food animal industries are affected by any number of infectious agents (think bacteria and viruses).  Shrimp farming is no different. Thus, a major responsibility of Gober’s job is to try to minimize disease in his shrimp. Using little blue canoes and nets, we collected samples from the shrimp ponds for examination. The industry is still reeling from the viral pandemics of the 1990s, which wrought havoc on shrimp production. The most significant of these viruses was White Spot Syndrome Virus, a disease that can cause up to 100 percent death of shrimp in ponds. The industry has since recovered, but now there is a new peril:  Acute Hepatopancreatic Necrosis Disease (AHPND). First discovered in Asia, the causative agent of AHPND has now spread globally. Another threat to the industry is the ever-present relationship between the job at hand, humans and domestic animals present in the mix. In Ecuador, “La cameronera,” or “the shrimp farm,” where I spent most of my time is also called “Las Casitas,” or “the houses.” These fishermen and their families are there for the shrimp, but Las Casitas also serves as home to chickens, pigs, cats, dogs, goats and more. Each of the farms and hatcheries we visited had its own menagerie of canine guards. None were spayed/neutered or vaccinated, and each dog was flea-ridden, but obviously well-loved and essential to the operation.  

A primary threat to successful aquaculture practice is loss due to disease, and the emergence of AHPND reminds us that there is still progress to be made. Veterinarians can help facilitate diagnosis and prevention of infectious diseases. For example, salmon farming in Scotland represents a promising example of veterinary involvement in aquaculture. Veterinarians have helped the industry combat pathogens such as the bacterium Aeromonas salmonicida and sea lice, improving the profitability and productivity of the industry.

Shrimp, like any other natural resource, are not endless, and the rampant growth of aquaculture has come at the expense of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in existence: mangrove forests. For millennia, mangroves have provided coastal people with a multitude of resources and ecosystem services, but now these forests are disappearing at astounding rates. Within the last two decades, an estimated 38 percent of mangrove forests have been destroyed worldwide, and shrimp farms are considered the most pressing threat. Thinning mangrove forests close to agricultural operations decreases the amount of runoff that can be sequestered, which further degrades water quality. The ability to catch wild shrimp declines in areas surrounding shrimp farms due to overexploitation and loss of mangrove habitat. If mangrove forests are to remain in existence for coming generations, people from all sectors must collaborate to make aquaculture sustainable and pursue fierce reforestation efforts.

Humans have a responsibility to devise ways to prosper without destroying the Earth for the future. Striving for intergenerational equality requires that we preserve the planet so our children and grandchildren have the necessary resources to survive. To achieve this, it is imperative that aquaculture be conducted sustainably, with a respect for mangrove forests and the role they play on our planet.

This is One Health – the idea that the health of every species on the planet is interconnected, and that if we work together, we can move towards a collective welfare. Groups such as the ICM are essential for a future of One Health. They bring people together from varying backgrounds and fields to facilitate progress towards a more sustainable existence for humans.

Amidst a world that sometimes seems overtaken by impending doom, it is essential that we celebrate every bit of goodness we encounter. Gober’s openness and willingness to work with me is an example of this. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of his family and all the people I met in Ecuador. They welcomed me into their lives and homes, encouraged me to learn everything I could about their country, and implored me to return when I can. Interactions with individuals like Gober, doing important and challenging work, are invaluable resources. This experience, my internship with the ICM, is something I will treasure for the rest of my career and life.

Click on a picture below to see a larger image.

Behind the Hospital Doors - A look at the day-to-day routine of our Veterinary Staff

October 04, 2018

The Saint Louis Zoo is home to the 17,000-square-foot Endangered Species Research Center & Veterinary Hospital. Under the leadership of Dr. Luis Padilla, Director of Animal Health, the veterinary staff is comprised of two staff veterinarians, a veterinary resident, four veterinary nurses, a veterinary pathologist and two quarantine staff. The veterinary team provides wellness, medical and surgical services, and emergency care to the Zoo’s animals. The hospital has areas dedicated to treatment, radiology, surgery, pathology and quarantine. Recently our veterinary staff took over our Facebook feed for a special #VetTakeOver. We have compiled those posts below for a special inside look at the #StlZooVetHospital.

Welcome Copper

The Saint Louis Zoo recently welcomed Copper, a female capybara, to her new home in River’s Edge. Before being moved to her new habitat, Copper received an exam by Veterinary Resident Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt. New animals to the Zoo spend around 30 days in the quarantine wing of the Veterinary Hospital as part of a risk assessment that ensures their health and welfare. Dr. Kleinschmidt performed an exam under anesthesia, including drawing blood for testing and giving her subcutaneous fluids to help with her anesthetic recovery. The next time you are at the Zoo, be sure to walk down the River’s Edge trail and say hello to Copper! 

New Baby Goats

The quarantine staff is preparing bottles for our new baby goats. New animals may be quarantined for 30 days and tested to make sure they are free from viruses, parasites or other diseases that could be transmitted to the other animals at the Zoo. After the 30 days is over, the baby goats headed over to their new home at the Children’s Zoo, where they joined the resident goat family. Come by the Children’s Zoo and say hello to our newest additions.

Tawny Frogmouth

This past spring, Veterinary Resident Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt performed a pre-shipment examination on two tawny frogmouth birds before they made the trip to live at another zoo. Animals leaving the Saint Louis Zoo are examined by the medical staff to make sure they are healthy before traveling to their new home. The physical included examining the entire body, listening to the heart and lungs, collecting blood, and placing a microchip. Native to Australia and Tasmania, these amazing birds were born here at the Saint Louis Zoo almost a year ago. Tawny frogmouth are named for their wide mouths, which are used to catch their prey, including frogs. 

Rhinoceros Hornbill Examination

Similar to the examination Veterinary Resident Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt performed on the tawny frogmouths, Dr. Chris Hanley, Associate Veterinarian, examined two rhinoceros hornbills before they travelled to a new home at another zoo. The birds received a full body physical exam, including listening to the heart and lungs, and collecting blood. These beautiful birds are a little over a year old and are native to Southeast Asia. The bird staff are highly trained to handle the birds with care, and they ensure the birds do not injure themselves or the staff.#VetTakeover #StlZooVetHospital

Neonate Exam

Since 1963, over 200 Speke’s gazelles have been born at the Saint Louis Zoo. Recently, Dr. Luis Padilla, Director of Animal Health, performed a neonatal exam on one of the newest Speke’s gazelles born here. Many newborns are examined within 24-hr after birth to ensure their health and wellbeing, and to make sure they have been nursing adequately. During the examination, Dr. Padilla listened to the heart and lungs, checked the body temperature, and collected a small blood sample for analysis. Dr. Padilla also cleaned the newborn’s umbilicus using gauze with an antiseptic. Speke’s gazelles are an endangered species, and each birth here is significant to the conservation of these small gazelles. This Speke’s gazelle has been named Titus and can be found at the Antelope House with his mom. 

Sloth Examination

Veterinary Resident Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt and Veterinary Technician Jane Merkel are performing a routine wellness examination on our sloth, Camden. They are performing a full physical exam, collecting blood, taking radiographs and trimming his claws. Proactive wellness exams ensure the best quality medical care. Come say hello to Camden at the Children’s Zoo. 

Chimpanzee Procedure 

Rosebud, a 48-year-old female chimpanzee, visited the Veterinary Hospital to have a swollen left ankle evaluated. Over the past few months, Rosebud’s ankle would intermittently swell. While under anesthesia, our animal care staff took the opportunity to perform a full-body examination, including radiographs, blood collection and a cardiac evaluation by Dr. Cecilia Marshall, a veterinary cardiologist.

Great apes, like humans, can develop cardiac changes over their lifetimes, and early detection is important to ensure their well-being. Dr. Marshall’s evaluation did not reveal any significant changes to Rosebud’s heart.

After the exam, it was determined that Rosebud may have had an old injury to her ankle. Veterinarians cleaned and treated the site. Rosebud was then transported back to her home at Jungle of the Apes, where she woke up in a familiar setting. She will be treated with antibiotics and pain medications for the ankle until healed.

Orangutan Evaluation

Our veterinary staff saw another resident of Jungle of the Apes; this time it was Cinta, a 14-year-old Sumatran orangutan. Cinta was examined at the Veterinary Hospital due to intermittently loose stools seen over the past few months. Dr. Jeff Kreikemeier, a human gastroenterologist, performed a colonoscopy to identify the cause. Although the internal lining appeared normal, biopsies were taken to be evaluated on a microscopic level. Based on those results, Cinta’s care team will decide if he may benefit from medications or dietary adjustments. While under anesthesia, we took the time to perform a full-body evaluation of Cinta. He received a cardiac evaluation, radiographs, ultrasound, blood collection, colonoscopy and vaccines. Our veterinary team collaborates with many human and veterinary professionals to help provide the best medical attention for each of our patients. Dr. Cecilia Marshall, a veterinary cardiologist, performed an echocardiogram, a technique to assess the structure of the heart muscle and its function. Great apes, like humans, can develop cardiac changes over their lifetime. Cinta’s heart is normal for an orangutan, and continued monitoring of his cardiovascular health is important to ensure a long, happy life.

Snow Leopard Dental Exam

During a recent exam performed on snow leopard Igor, the veterinary staff identified changes in two of his canine teeth. Although he was not affected by this, it was important to further assess and treat these to avoid future problems. Dr. Pierre Tung, a veterinarian with expertise in dentistry, assisted Staff Veterinarian Dr. Shannon Cerveny. Dr. Tung performed a full dental examination, including dental radiographs. A root canal was performed on a recently fractured canine tooth, and a previous root canal site was repaired on the second canine. Routine dental care for our animals is crucial in preventing dental disease and maintaining the high health standards we have at the Saint Louis Zoo. Igor has recovered nicely. Come see Igor’s beautiful smile at Big Cat Country! 

Gone Camping: Saint Louis Zoo Preschool Edition

September 12, 2018

By Emma Donnelly, Saint Louis Zoo Educator

Ask most parents and the idea of camping with small children seems daunting —what if there are bugs? What if there aren't enough activities to keep them busy? What if they have a meltdown? Taking small children camping seems like no small feat, but the pros far outweigh the cons.

At the Saint Louis Zoo Preschool, we realize the importance of children having opportunities to explore nature. We wanted our families to have a camping experience that would foster a love of nature and a desire for discovery in their everyday lives. In our classroom, the preschoolers spend much of their school day outside exploring. Therefore, we not only wanted our preschoolers to experience the outdoors in a new way, but to take and share those lessons and passions with their families. Our goal is not to just have our preschoolers care for and about nature, but to encourage their families to be involved in the process. So, in an effort to engage our preschoolers and their families together, we decided to host a preschool camping trip.

Our families arrived at Reis Biological Station in Steelville, MO, early one Saturday morning and were greeted by bright sunshine and choruses of birds. We took a short hike up to a prairie and wetland area, flipping rocks and logs along the way, where we found different insects, worms, and a midland brown snake that the preschoolers were able to view up close and touch. Flipping over logs and rocks became a popular activity for the entire weekend as our preschoolers became fascinated with the ecosystem that exists underground. Equipped with nets and pond viewers, our preschoolers found salamander eggs, toad eggs, newts, tadpoles, and water insects in the ponds at the top of the hill. They played in the prairie, chasing butterflies with nets and finding flowers and rocks, and theymight have stayed for hours if it hadn't been time for lunch.

After lunch, our troop explored the Huzzah creek, which was a short walk from our campsite. As one preschooler remarked, "I really liked when we went swimming. I liked that we were catching bugs together." For three hours, which is as long as a normal preschool day in our classroom, the students explored the shallow waters catching crayfish, sculpin, water pennies, and more. Every find brought excitement as children showed off their treasures to everyone around them, beaming with pride each time they had a new critter to display. Wading out into the deeper currents was a welcomed challenge, and older siblings cheered on our preschoolers as they attempted these feats. The successes they had in Huzzah creek were apparent from the smiles on every child's face as we headed back to our campsite.

All of these activities were meant to share our love of the outdoors with our preschoolers and our families, and to give them the confidence to explore nature independently. We wanted to show them that exploring the outdoors could be as simple as walking outside and digging in the dirt, and that camping was just another tool the parents could use to inspire a love of nature in their children. Some of our families came to the trip with prior camping experience, while others had never gone camping before, like Avery's family.

Avery is new to the 4- and 5-year-old class and the Saint Louis Zoo Preschool and had never been camping before this trip. As her mother, Jessica, shared, "We had not taken the children on a camping trip. We were a bit nervous, but excited all the same." Jessica wanted Avery and her younger brother, David, to love nature and camping and felt that Avery gained much from this trip. Surrounded by her preschool friends, Avery thrived, finding different animals, touching a speckled kingsnake found in the prairie, catching tadpoles in the ponds, and seeing a Luna moth during our night exploration. "Avery now knows how to safely explore nature while respecting animals and their habitats," said Jessica."Our family probably would have waited years more to go camping but this trip has given us the confidence to plan another trip soon."

Other preschoolers, like Christopher, had been camping before with their families, but his mother, Erin, said that "the planned activities and specific attention to connecting with nature was different than anything they had done."

Christopher has been a preschool student at the Saint Louis Preschool for three years. He began in our 3- and 4-year-old class and graduated to the 4- and 5-year-old class, where we have seen him flourish into an insightful, curious leader that loves to take risks. In a time when some parents are hesitant to allow their child to take risks and get messy, Christopher's family has embraced his adventurous spirit and gives him the room to learn and grow from challenges. "Christopher saw firsthand how exciting it is to explore the outdoors," said Erin. It was hard to say what Christopher's favorite part of the trip was, because he said several times that he would want to live at Reis! We watched as Christopher put his all into every activity we had planned, from flipping logs to exploring the creek, and we observed as he helped his friends and family climb a difficult cliff side to explore a cave. He marched to the front of the group, tested several ways to get up, and helped others find the confidence to climb the rocky, uneven hill.

One of the best things Christopher experienced during this trip was the chance to try fresh, spring-fed watercress. Along the path to the Huzzah creek, there was a small spring house connected to a bridge over the flowing fresh water. In the water, there was a floating mass of beautiful watercress. I the Saint Louis Zoo Preschool director, called Christopher and his younger sister, Shelby, over to try the watercress, after I had mentioned it on our walk to the Huzzah creek earlier. Christopher "was fascinated that it didn't cost anything and is a healthy snack that we can just pick out of the water," said Erin. "We've never seen him so excited about eating greens!" He even took a few sprigs with him to eat with his lunch on the car ride home!

Every preschooler and family member came away with a different experience, and we are honored that we were able to share these moments with them. Watching the excitement of discovery, the happiness of freedom, and contentment of relaxation made us at the Saint Louis Zoo Preschool remember why we wanted to have this trip in the first place. Our camping trip was 26 hours long, but we know that the experiences we all had at Reis Biological Station will stay with us for a lifetime.

For more information about the Preschool, including registration deadlines, visit here: Saint Louis Zoo Preschool