Treating Wildlife In The Concrete Jungle

A snowy owl is treated at Tufts Wildlife Clinic in Massachusetts.

Tracy Williams Photography/ThinkStock

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Massachusetts, a state roughly the size of 5 million acres, is home to six million people and a rising number of wildlife, including reptiles, mammals, amphibians, fish and birds. As people begin to take over the areas that were previously only home to the wildlife, the creatures begin to enter the people-populated areas. When that happens, the results can be harmful to the animals.

One such animal, a snowy owl, competed with a jet's downdraft at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts and lost. Luckily, he was not entirely defeated. A Massachusetts Audubon Society rescuer brought the owl to the Tufts Wildlife Clinic in North Grafton.

As is often the case with the animals they treat, the Tufts veterinarians had a decision to make: either fix the owl's broken wing or euthanize the creature. This time, the decision was easy. Euthanasia was not an option. They were determined to save the snowy owl.

Veterinarians anesthetized and prepared the owl for surgery. Maureen Murray, DVM, DABVP (Avian) performed the delicate surgery. An hour from start to finish, the surgery involved Dr. Murray attaching a metal bar to the wing with a few very small pins. The metal bar was put in place "to keep the bone rigid while the fracture healed," according to The Boston Globe.

"The goal is get this animal back to nature," Murray told The Boston Globe. "For some species, you need almost 100 percent healing. You can't return a crooked-flying owl or wobbly peregrine [falcon] to the wild. These are creatures whose survival depends on absolute natural precision: stealth, speed, sight."

The survival of wildlife creatures is very important to the Tufts Wildlife Clinic, which is part of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, one of the few vet schools where training in treating wild animals is required for students. The number of patients admitted to the clinic has increased 41 percent in the last ten years or so, since wildlife and humans are living in closer proximity than ever before. The issues the clinic treats are largely due to the animals' encounters with humans.

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Rodenticide (which is rising), cars, domestic cats, chimney flues, golf carts, weed whackers, and soccer nets are some such encounters that wild animals have experienced.

Almost 2,000 New England-area wild animals were treated at the Tufts clinic last year.

Not long ago, wildlife medicine wasn't considered a standalone specialty. Florina S. Tseng, DVM, who graduated from Cornell University in 1981, told The Boston Globe that when she was a veterinary student "[s]ome kindly vet or student might patch up the odd hawk or squirrel, but there was also an attitude [of] "nature takes care of its own."

Dr. Tseng became increasingly concerned with the environment and how she could help the animals that were injured and/or sick due to civilization. Tseng treated creatures affected by oil spills at the International Bird Rescue Center in Berkeley, California, before going to Tufts in 2000. She is now the director of the Tufts Wildlife Clinic.

It was at this clinic that a snowy owl was treated for an injury he sustained after a run-in with an airplane. The surgery went smoothly and the owl is testing his wings out in a large barn. Releasing the creature back into the wild depends on his agility and strength, as well as the weather. And with the weather warming, time is running out for him to make it back to Arctic Canada.

If time runs out, the wild creature would have to spend one more winter in captivity.

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