Search This Blog

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes

"Populations of lions, tigers, bears, and many other species that could once withstand a disease outbreak or natural disaster now need our help.  The health of each individual wild animal matters, whether it's free-living or captive."

If there is anyone who has crazier stories than a zookeeper, it's the zoo vet.  The keeper's crazy stories are diluted with the relatively calm days of routine care.  By the time a problem lands in the vet's lap, things are already out-of-the-ordinary.  In The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes, Dr. Lucy Spelman, former director of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and Dr. Ted Mashima collect some of the most unique into one enjoyable volume.

Stories are grouped into loosely themed sections; one, for example, describes how technological advances have changed the way that vets take care of wild animals (including the titular story, detailing Dr. Spelman's fancy footwork on an Indian rhino), while another describes the physical challenges of wrangling patients, be they camels or crocodiles.  The first section explores the close bonds that humans and animals form, including some unlikely examples.  My favorite story describes a green moray eel at the New England Aquarium, recently donated by the bartender who was keeping him as a pet, who refused to eat in his new home.  Fearing that the eel might starve to death, the aquarists invited his former owner to pay him a visit.  To their surprise, the eel responded immediately to the presence of his former caretaker, swimming over cheerfully for a snack, and willingly eating from that day on.  It's a poignant reminder that, when caring for animals, we have to consider their mental and emotional health as well as their physical health.

The subtitle of the book is "Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients."  The cases involved aren't always zoo vets per se - not only are their aquarium vets, but there are also wildlife rehabilitators and field biologists as well - but the stories are often surprising.  It's especially enjoyable to see how Spelman, Mashima, and their contributors use the case studies involved to teach larger stories.  These could easily have been a collection of medical reviews, a sort of "House M.D." for zookeepers.  Instead, the authors present the medical cases as part of a greater lesson.

For example, one story details a white-tailed deer fawn "adopted" by two women who found it (in actuality, white-tail does often hide their fawns while they go off foraging; many "orphaned" fawns are actually taken while their mother is off, but intending to return).  The contributor could have made this a story about ear infection and diarrhea and all of the other problems the fawn was facing - and these are all covered.  What is also presented, however, is a warning about well-meaning people taking animals from the wild with negative results for the creatures that they are intending to help.  In many stories, a conservation connection is made.

Zoo-buffs and vet students will enjoy The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes.  The book's easily-written manner and explanatory manner, however, make it accessible to the lay-person as well.  It's a good read for anyone with compassion for animals who wants to learn about how their caretakers manage of the health of some very wild patients.

No comments:

Post a Comment