Friday, July 30, 2010

Two Types of Giraffes in Ruaha: Affected and Unaffected

July 30, 2010
Life in Ruaha has been exciting, hot, and has allowed for a look into the “real” Africa. We’ve had tsetse flies, flat tires, and barely successful immobilizations of free-ranging wild animals. Our first full day in the park was spent conducting a health surveillance for giraffe skin disease. This exercise consisted of 3 sets of vehicles heading out into the African bush to observe skin lesions on affected giraffes via binoculars. Little is known about this condition but it consists of hyperkeratosis of the skin around the carpal joint, typically on the forelimbs. While the condition rarely leads to mortality, it can become severe enough to affect an animal’s gait, making it vulnerable to predation.

I was the data recorder for our team, and it was very exciting taking part in real wildlife veterinarian activities. We spent the whole day out in the field, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Afterwards, Sukuman and I compiled the teams’ data and presented our findings to the whole group. In sum, the prevalence of affected giraffes within the park was 80%, a rise from the 61% prevalence the prior year. The hope is that this and similar research efforts will shed some light on the etiology and pathogenesis of this disease.

Posing for a giraffe surveillance shot with Sean

Today was also exciting as we got to do an immobilization of two adult male giraffes. We darted the animals from the vehicles and then a team of men approached the animal with a rope. Theoretically the men work together to entrap the giraffe and pull tight across all four legs. I will just say this is easier said than done. With an experienced team this technique is very effective, but it was not without its challenges today! For the first animal I was data recorder and with this duty came the privilege of riding in the first vehicle with all of the important people! I got to see how they selected the animal, how they loaded the dart gun with the anesthetic agent, how they shot the dart gun, and how the animal responded to the initial shot. It was an exciting view and an experience I won’t soon forget. The first male was recumbent for 15 minutes, and in that time we collected blood samples, took biopsies from affected and unaffected sites on the fore leg, collected ectoparasites (ticks), and sampled the feces. We also took vital signs such as heart rate, respiration rate, oxygen saturation, and temperature.

The second animal was not quite as straight forward as this bull decided to not respond to the initial 20 mg of anesthetic. After waiting about 35 minutes for the effect, the dart team made the decision to administer another 16 mg which quickly resulted in the classic “star gazing” behavior and stiff gait associated with a light plane of anesthesia. On the second giraffe I was monitoring temperature and oxygen saturation. It was really great getting our hands on the animals and seeing firsthand the challenges of field immobilization of a free-ranging wild animal. Few people can say they anesthetized a wild giraffe in Africa!

Observing the darted giraffe from the "pop top" vehicle

Tomorrow we start our day with a friendly game of “football” (as they call it in these parts). I need my rest to be competitive, so I will say ‘lala salama’ and goodnight.

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