This Thing Called Courage

Friday, February 27, 2009

New-Born Giraffe Recovering Nicely

Not long after the 5-foot newborn giraffe unfolded her long limbs into the world, staff at Southwick's Zoo in Mendon knew there was something wrong. The downy beast was not able to suckle. Her mother was not producing milk.
Dr. Peter Brewer, the zoo's chief veterinarian, gave the gawky creature, Molly, a bottle of cow's colostrum, the first milk packed with antibodies and nutrients vital for growth, organ function, and immunity from disease.
But Molly's appetite was weak and she was unable to stand. On Wednesday, worried about the giraffe's deteriorating condition, the zoo rushed her to the hospital - one specially designed for large animals at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton.
Immediately, a team of veterinarians and neonatal technicians swung into action, giving the 2-day-old giraffe a full physical examination - assessing her heart rate, breathing, and blood - before determining that she was dehydrated and suffering from a low white-blood-cell count.
They pushed antibiotics through a catheter into her long neck and hand-fed her bottles of goat's milk. Now, 24 hours later, Molly appears to be thriving, hospital staff said.
"She's much more active today," said Dr. Daniela Bedenice, an assistant professor of clinical sciences at the school who has been put in charge of Molly's care. "She's latched on to the bottle. She's very spunky. So we're very happy about her response over the last 24 hours."
Molly, who weighs 86 pounds and has a bandage over the catheter, is expected to remain in the hospital over the weekend, while doctors continue to monitor her blood to make sure her immune system is strong and fighting infection. Bedenice said she had never treated a giraffe. It has been a bit of a challenge, she said.
"It may be a learning curve getting her to nurse - because they're tall animals," she said, adding that bottle-feeding duty has fallen to a veterinary resident and neonatal technician. "It's very good teamwork."
She said hospital staff members have come to admire the serenity of their unusual patient, as Molly blithely ignores the din of passing hospital workers and the clip-clop of horses tromping through a nearby hallway.
"She's a trooper," Bedenice said. "She really is a curious animal, and seems quite relaxed."
Brewer's sister, Betsey, who is an executive at Southwick's Zoo, said she had been deeply worried after Molly's birth on Monday at 4 a.m. "Her legs were really wobbly and she couldn't even stand up," she said.
Now that Molly is on the mend, she looks forward to the giraffe's return to the zoo.
Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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