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Unlike many of my San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) colleagues that have traveled to China, I wasn’t sent there to accompany one of our young pandas on their journey home. The beautiful and green-certified facility is located on 125 acres along the foothills of the bamboo forest and currently houses almost 30 giant pandas.
The beautiful facility was just the right venue for participants to sharpen their necropsy skills.
The pathology workshop was comprised of 25 Chinese veterinarians, managers, and technicians from 18 different panda facilities throughout China, as well as 4 interpreters and 9 instructors from various international facilities. These tools and techniques will help the Chinese determine the best conservation strategies for the giant panda populations in China. This is just another great example of how the San Diego Zoo is helping the fight against extinction globally.
Megan Varney is a research technician with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
1Bones on the BeachBy April Gorow – May 7, 2015The team repositions the whale skull for better access for cleaning, measuring, and sample collection. The Wildlife Disease Laboratories of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM) have had a long-time working relationship. Having never necropsied a whale and being unfamiliar with the anatomy, I thought it would an amazing experience. As you would expect, Scott and his volunteers made many more trips to the beach to recover as many bones as possible, stacking them at the base of the cliff. April Gorrow is a senior pathology technician at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
As most of you know, giant panda Gao Gao had surgery May 6, 2014, to remove his right testicle after a tumor was discovered by our veterinary staff (see Surgery for Gao Gao).
After we received Gao Gao’s testicle in the laboratory, parts of the tumor were processed and stained for examination under a microscope.
This photomicrograph (taken through a microscope) shows the tumor on the right-hand side compressing the normal testicular tissue on the left. We also used a specialized technique, immunohistochemistry, to determine if the tumor was making substances characteristic of one particular cell type or another.
In Gao Gao’s case, the evidence supports a diagnosis of seminoma, which is a tumor arising from the germ or sperm-producing cells. This high magnification photomicrograph shows a single tumor cell undergoing mitosis (cell division), a characteristic that indicates tumor growth. Despite this uncertainty, we are very hopeful that Gao Gao’s tumor will behave more like a seminoma in dogs.
2Beware of Crunchy Figs!By April Gorow – January 16, 2014The fruit of a Ficus sansibarica provides a cozy home for fig wasps.
Recently, the Wildlife Disease Laboratories received an interesting request from Seth Menser, a senior horticulturist at the San Diego Zoo, asking if we could take pictures of plant parts under the microscope.
Seth brought up several figs from a Ficus macrophylla, commonly known as a Moreton Bay fig. Ficus trees are unique because the flowering parts of the plants are inside the fruiting parts (figs), making it difficult for insects to pollinate the trees.
To begin the cycle, a tiny female fig wasp enters into a narrow opening (ostiloe) at one end of the fig. April Gorow is a senior pathology technician with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. 3We Never Stop LearningBy April Gorow – September 3, 2013Did you know that hedgehogs evolved 50 million years ago in San Diego County? Dioramas, specimen jars, and stacks of books are all images that come to mind when you think of natural history museums. We have established how important museums are, but where does the museum get their specimens? April Gorow is a research coordinator for the Wildlife Disease Laboratories, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
Compared to the numerous mammalian species you normally encounter, such as dogs and cats, desert tortoises have relatively limited means of expression. When your physician does an exam, simply asking you questions makes the task much more straightforward. By carefully pressing fingers into the soft skin area near the hind legs and into the shell cavity, an experienced examiner can determine whether there are masses in the coelomic cavity. Identifying unhealthy tortoises is an important task at the San Diego Zoo’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Las Vegas for individual animal and population health. 1The Social Network…of BirdsBy Carmel Witte – June 25, 2013These two bee-eaters sharing a meal in their aviary are part of the same social network. The age of social networking has the world communicating through cyberspace on just about anything.
Scientists are developing new methods to understand how people are influenced by their social network. Avian mycobacteriosis is a bacterial disease of birds caused by Mycobacterium avium and other related species of mycobacteria.
We are just beginning this fascinating journey into understanding the influence of social networks on disease dynamics in our animals, so you will have to stay tuned to find out the answers. 5Blue-chinned Sapphire MysteryBy Rachael Holland – June 21, 2013Males have the bright blue plumage, while females are a bit less striking.
But when our veterinary pathologists looked under the microscope at the tissues from the birds, they made a Eureka!
Rachael Holland is a research technician at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s Wildlife Disease Laboratories. 0Veterinarians Don’t Just Operate, They Educate!By Valerie Stoddard – June 7, 2013Yes, veterinarians even examine panda cubs! For veterinarians at San Diego Zoo Global, in addition to caring for the animals in our collection, one of the most important things they do is share their vast knowledge and expertise with aspiring veterinary students at the university level.
In 2003, our veterinarians and pathologists collaborated to create an externship program, and since then it has grown exponentially. As with specialties in human medicine such as cardiology or orthopedics, zoo veterinary medicine is a specialty where focused training and education is required.
Once a veterinary student has chosen zoo medicine as a field of interest, applying for and participating in an externship rotation is an important step toward success.
Our veterinary student externs must be in their fourth or senior year during their rotations.
While it takes a great deal of initiative, discipline, leadership skills, and patience, working as a veterinarian in a zoo setting is also extremely rewarding. I’m a veterinary pathologist, which means I spend a lot of quality time looking through a microscope at slides with tissues to try to evaluate health problems that show up as changes in those tissues. At the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, I work exclusively on tortoises that have died at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center.
To get information from enough tortoises to allow good conclusions to be drawn, I need to look at a lot of slides. Water blisters are common skin problems that almost everyone experiences a few times in life. Water blisters are actually comprised of blood serum, minus the clotting agents and blood cells. Dampen a washcloth, wring out excess water and then squirt a dab of liquid soap on the cloth.
It doesn't seem like a small water bubble could introduce infection into the body, but it could. Slideshare uses cookies to improve functionality and performance, and to provide you with relevant advertising.
Clipping is a handy way to collect and organize the most important slides from a presentation. Megan Jones (left) and the author (right) had a chance to see how San-Diego-Zoo-born Yun Zi is doing. Littered throughout the airport are panda souvenir shops, mock habitats filled with plush giant pandas, and tourists decked out in panda garb.
Megan Jones, a SDZG veterinary pathologist, and I set off to China to teach a Giant Panda Pathology International Exchange training workshop in Dujiangyan. The facility also contains a public education center filled with many creative and unique hands-on activities, including a real giant panda skeleton and—my favorite—a digital, interactive, panda necropsy table complete with an overhead surgical lamp! The main focus of this workshop was developing necropsy, or post-mortem exam, skills through a series of lectures and hands-on wet labs. So when Scott Tremor, the mammologist at SDNHM and a long-time friend of mine, called me in March to tell me about his latest adventure and make an interesting proposition, we were intrigued. This beautiful spot, part of Cabrillo National Monument, is closed to the public—the only way to reach it is down a cliff wall using a knotted rope.
The goal of the day was to disarticulate the skull from the body and move it to the base of the cliff. These thin sections are then stained by different methods to allow microscopic evaluation of the cells in the tumor. Since that time, we have received a lot of questions about how Gao Gao’s diagnosis was made and what the findings mean for his long-term prognosis.

From this, the veterinary pathologists gathered clues from the arrangement and distribution of tumor cells, features of individual tumor cells, and the frequency of tumor cell division and invasion into adjacent normal tissues. All of this information was synthesized to determine the tumor cell type and if the tumor was completely removed. In addition, there was no evidence in the surgically removed tissues of tumor spread beyond the testicle.
The dark purple material at the center of the cell is the nucleus beginning to divide.So what does this mean for Gao Gao? In 1997, a seminoma was found in 26-year-old giant panda Hsing Hsing, from the National Zoo, and treated by surgical removal.
These trees originate in the subtropical rain forest of eastern Australia but do well in frost-free climates such as ours. Using a dissecting scope with a camera attachment and a macro lens on a photo stand, we were able to capture the intertwined life cycles of the fig and the wasp. Museums are not just filled with primary school students on field trips but with invaluable collections. They need to understand each animal’s living requirements (food, water, space, territory, and reproductive strategies), but also anatomy and physiology. To make matters worse, they hide out in their burrows for extended periods of time and are mostly quiet. Wildlife veterinarians, on the other hand, have to be much more clever and creative in using indirect measures of health. A desert tortoise with a prominent bony ridge on the top of its head is severely under condition, whereas one that cannot retract its head and limbs into its shell due to abundant subcutaneous fat stores is well over condition.
It contains nerves, blood vessels, and bone and is sensitive to trauma as well as metabolic derangements. Depending on the type and severity of the exudate, the tortoise may be suffering from an upper respiratory tract disease.
Tortoises with yellow, casseous plaques on their tongue may be suffering from a viral or bacterial infection. Tortoises, as other reptiles, are ectotherms: they do not control their body temperature as consistently as mammals but rely on environmental sources to regulate internal heating and cooling. The Center temporarily houses almost 2,000 tortoises, and each individual has to have a health check at least once a year. We are now connected to a network of people on Facebook and Twitter with whom we tune in daily to see what our friends are up to.
Who we are connected to in the virtual world and in real life influences different aspects of our own lives, such as whether we vote in elections, our happiness, our weight, and whether we catch the flu or acquire other diseases.
This is a challenging disease of birds, because whenever a case arises, we do not know how far an infection has spread through a group of “connected” birds sharing the same aviary. Years of careful record keeping has created an archive of data documenting each bird’s aviary and enclosure-mates.
These answers will allow us to develop better disease-management protocols to mitigate risk to birds at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, as well as in conservation programs around the world. The next time you are visiting the Zoo or Safari Park, remember that, even in death, animals are helping us learn about and conserve species around the world!
Until one has actually observed or practiced in a zoo veterinary hospital, it is impossible to fully understand the amount of discipline needed and the challenges faced by veterinarians and support staff. With more than 30 accredited veterinary schools in the United States, we have collectively hosted over 200 students from the US as well as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, France, Italy, India, Thailand, and China (just to name a few!). During and even after graduation, volunteering to participate in as many observational opportunities as possible enhances students’ ability to learn the many different aspects of the profession in the clinical setting. Most university career counseling offices have information regarding externships, and there are numerous externship opportunities listed on the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians website as well, including our facilities. This ensures they have enough experience and education to receive the greatest benefit while working in our practice. For those with sincere passion for conservation and caring for the Earth’s creatures, working as a zoo veterinarian is not just a living but truly a way of life. I can find dying cells, inflammation, various pathogens, scarring, thinning, thickening, bleeding, tumors, strange crystals, and unusual pigments.
Since 2009, over 4,500 slides have been made of desert tortoise tissues, providing an invaluable resource for the understanding of disease in desert tortoises. On the left side of the picture, you can see normal nuclei: round or oval purple shapes that look very speckled, like chocolate chip cookies. When the body detects damage to the outer layers of the skin, it will send blood to the area to heal and cool the skin. They usually occur at just the most inconvenient times as well,making sure that your life is disrupted as much as possible. Several street corners in Dujiangyan are decorated with oversized giant panda statues arranged in various “panda-like” postures. Working with the recently built Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control and Prevention Base, which aims to rehabilitate sick and geriatric giant pandas and red pandas, we were tasked with teaching the first of a series of workshops intended to share knowledge and skills in wildlife disease surveillance, investigation, and research.
Necropsies are an essential tool for making accurate diagnoses and ultimately determining the cause of death, just like a human autopsy. Thanks to the hard work of many experts in the field, including SDZG’s Wildlife Disease Laboratories Director, Dr. A 30-foot-long juvenile humpback whale had died, and the carcass had washed ashore at Pelican Point, on the tip of Point Loma. We timed our excursion to coincide with low tide, so we could access the beach and the whale. Naturally, the tide washing over the carcass had removed some of the flesh exposing some bone, but there was still a lot of work to be done. Coast Guard airlifted it first to a nearby parking lot, then on to a spot where it was buried so local insects could finish cleaning the bones. In this blog I’ll tell you about our analysis of the tumor in the Wildlife Disease Laboratories of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and what we know about the tumor in giant pandas and other animals. In domestic animals, seminomas are common in older dogs, and they are usually completely cured by surgery. The answer is that we can’t tell for certain if his tumor has been cured by surgery or if there is a small chance that it could reoccur at a later time. Hsing Hsing died two years later from kidney disease, and there was no evidence of any remaining tumor at his necropsy. These majestic trees can reach up to 200 feet (60 meters) with long, aerial roots providing the tree with additional support to hold up the immense canopy. The fig provides refuge and a food source for the wasps, and, in turn, the wasps pollinate the tree. Museum curators are not just librarians cataloging their specimens but scientists and researchers helping to save species. It is important to understand what makes an animal jump, fly, and live without water for long periods of time.
Though now extinct in North America, paleontologists at the museum are able to compare the local fossilized remains to the African hedgehog carcasses received from the San Diego Zoo.
Archiving and sharing tissue samples from them provide rare and extremely valuable resources for current disease investigations and future research. Furthermore, they can pull their legs and head back into their shell as a safety precaution when startled, so all that remains visible are their shell and the armor-like aspects of their front and hind limb scales. The goal is to release the tortoises into their native habitat, the Mojave Desert, to increase the wild population numbers. In the past hour, my friends on Facebook looked at the nutrition facts on a candy bar (Is that really a good idea?), posted a CUTE photo of a clouded leopard (thanks to my “friend,” San Diego Zoo Global), and humorously referenced her boss mistaking a Kanye West song for the ‘80s hit single “Ghostbusters.” This is my social network.
Traditionally, disease acquisition has been attributed entirely to contact with other infected birds; however, recent studies conducted by the Wildlife Disease Laboratories, a division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, show that the environment may also be playing an important role in the spread of this disease.
These data can be used in conjunction with health history to determine whether the occasional cases of avian mycobacteriosis we see are attributed to a bird’s social network or its environment history. The blue-chinned sapphire Chlorostilbon notatus is a species of hummingbird covered in shiny blue feathers—more a trick of the light than an actual feather pigment. My job as a pathology technician is to look for anything wrong outside and inside these animals.
The pathologists let the nutritionists know, and they tested the nectar the sapphires were being fed—it, too, was low in vitamin A! The clinical veterinary medicine and veterinary pathology externship programs at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s Wildlife Disease Laboratories provide just such an opportunity to a select group of students each year.
Working with such a diverse group of students also helps us, as we gain knowledge of veterinary practices in other countries.
Students should strive to observe different practice areas in veterinary medicine such as small animal, large animal, equine, zoo and exotic, pathology, research, or industrial.
Each program listing contains specific information needed for applying to select institutions. Once students graduate and obtain their degree in veterinary medicine and a license to practice, many will apply for the University of California, Davis, Residency, which includes one year each at three different zoological institutions: Sacramento Zoo, San Diego Zoo, and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
It brings the staff of our veterinary services and pathology departments and San Diego Zoo Global as a whole great satisfaction knowing that the years of experience we share will be translated through the work of future generations of zoo veterinarians.
Well, it turns out that one of the best ways to figure out what health indicators most accurately indicate disease is to compare the information from the live tortoise to the changes we see in the tissues if the animal dies.

Since November 2012, I’ve been describing the changes I see so that they can be correlated to what was found in the live animal. We are always on the lookout for bacteria or viruses that cause that most feared of tortoise infections: upper respiratory disease. On the right side of the picture, the nuclei are bigger and have clumps of magenta in the center surrounded by a clear rim. A reliable rule of a thumb for choosing shoes that fit is that there should be a half inch of space between the toe and end of the shoes. If you have blisters already, don't repeat the action without protecting your skin properly.
It can be incredibly frustrating, andtheres nothing worse than cancelling plans to go out or even just trying to enjoy a quite night inwith friends, or any number of other social interactions, just because youre having an outbreak.
The city of Dujiangyan is in the Sichuan Province, just 45 miles from Chengdu, the country’s 7th largest city by population. The lab portion of the workshop enabled the participants to hone their necropsy skills using rabbits. Bruce Rideout, as well as the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, disease investigation will become an integral part of panda conservation, a necessity for any conservation plan. Humpback whales are relatively rare off San Diego’s coastline, so the museum wanted to preserve the specimen for its collection. Andrew Cartocetti, Megan Varney, and Rachael Keeler) to put on their Tyvek® suits and boots and help out.
There, we were met by Southwest Fisheries Science Center employees, who are responsible for testing tissues and collecting measurements on all beached cetaceans. The soft, rubbery flesh was hard to cut through and the sand dulled our knives immediately.
However, in other species such as humans, a higher percentage of seminomas will metastasize (spread) to other organs without additional treatment such as chemotherapy. This is a common problem for pathologists who work with endangered animals, because very few tumors will ever be observed in these species, whereas it is easy to gather information on tumor behavior in dogs and humans where thousands of cases can be studied over time. We have had an opportunity to compare the microscopic sections of Hsing Hsing’s tumor with the samples from Gao Gao, and they are very similar. And, if you have never seen inside a fig, with the fig wasps, it is a very incredible thing to look at!” We were curious, so agreed to help. Seth brought several figs ranging from green and firm to dark maroon with spots on the outside. As she is wandering through the fig, she spreads pollen from the fig she hatched in, thus helping the fig tree produce viable seeds. With the number of endangered species increasing, museums have evolved into a major resource for biologists and other researchers who study genetics, taxonomy, comparative anatomy, and even behavior. Many of these animals are not displayed anywhere else in the US, which makes the collection unique not only to visitors but to museums and researchers.
However, only healthy animals can be released to increase their chance of survival and minimize the risk of spreading disease. Here at the San Diego Zoo, I have been able to take an up-close look at this species, aptly named for its beautiful color. Since we often send and receive animals to and from zoos worldwide, this proves very beneficial throughout the animal shipment process.
This demonstrates to selection committees that a student has researched the profession and holds a genuine interest in pursuing a career in the field of zoo and exotic animal medicine. Most programs accept applications at least a year in advance, sometimes two, so it is important to begin identifying potential programs as a college freshman or sophomore. The residency program also partners with SeaWorld San Diego and offers residents an eight-week opportunity to work in aquatic veterinary medicine. The more we know about which tools work to predict severity and type of disease, the faster and more precise we are at identifying and helping animals at risk.
This is more than just a head cold like people get and is a big factor in tortoise population decline.
These painful water bubbles appear most frequently on the hands and feet, but they can form anywhere on the body. Caring for blisters is not complicated, but you should take some precautions to prevent their development. As a result of this, most people with herpes, myself included, would love to know how to clear up herpes outbreaks quickly and effectively.
The Sichuan province is best known for their extremely spicy food, and one other thing, the giant panda! These skills include taking accurate measurements and photos, practicing proper tissue sampling techniques for histology and future testing, and ensuring all gross lesions are accurately described and recorded in the final report. It had laid on the beach in the sun for over a month, and Scott was collecting volunteers to help clean the bones.
With the warning that the carcass may have washed away overnight and may not be there when we arrived, we met up with other volunteers at the San Diego Natural History Museum and headed to the beach. Tom was amazing at directing us the best way to maneuver the skull so we could cut away the muscles. He explained the life cycle of the fig and the fig wasp as he cut them in half, and we set up the cameras. They were soft and fleshy, with delicate flower structures and seeds lightly attached to the inner walls. After an extensive necropsy and investigation of an animal’s death, the body may be saved for a museum.
Lily Cheng, another veterinary pathologist, volunteered to spend two whole months staring at a mountain of desert tortoise slides. Some savvy souls may note that no light microscope can show an individual virus particle (you really need an electron microscope for that, since viruses are smaller than the wavelength of visible light). Ive found a few methods that really work for me, and they could help you out a great deal as well.
In the end, the strength and endurance of so many people accomplished our goal; we separated and lifted the 300-pound skull to a safe place on nearby rocks.
What a great opportunity we had collaborating with our neighbors at the San Diego Natural History Museum to turn a tragedy into valuable learning experience. Each mature fig contained several wingless male wasps, and Seth was lucky enough to find one female flighted wasp. Evaluating these dynamics through time is where social network analysis is remarkably powerful.
And this bird was not on exhibit—it was in my hand as I conducted an external postmortem (after death) exam.
Using some of these Ive managed in most cases to reduce the time the outbreak takes to heal (my outbreaks can be very uncomfortable and long lasting, Ive knocked days off the usual healing time with some of these methods).Epsom salt baths Ive found are a great way to help clear up herpes outbreaks. One of his areas of expertise and interest is in the evolutionary history of baleen whales, also known as the mysticetes.
Ultimately, we hope to uncover the relative contribution of mycobacterial infections due to both the social network and the environment. This tiny bird, still sparkling in blue feathers, had passed away and it is my job to help determine why. These are big enough to see with a microscope, just as you can see a patch of lawn even if you are too far away to pick out a single blade of grass. Warm water and acup of Epsom salts is incredibly soothing and also helps with itching and pain. He explained that baleen species (humpback, fin, blue, minke, right, and grey whales) are filter feeders, but have all evolved different feeding strategies.
It wasn’t until later in the car ride home we realized we smelled like the hold of a fishing boat! The virus most common and dangerous in tortoise respiratory disease (herpesvirus) forms these aggregations in the nuclei of cells, and they are called intranuclear inclusions. Doing this once ortwice (or as often as you want or can manage) a day really helps getting the healing processgoing.CLICK HERE TO GET INSTANT ACCESS TO GET RID OF HERPESDownload this document if link is not clickableTea tree oil is another life-saver. Their function is to mate with the females and chew small openings through the fig’s wall for the females to escape, and the cycle begins again. It can sting a bit, especially the first time you apply it, but it is awonderful antiseptic and healing agent.
In studying today’s mysticetes , scientists have discovered that baleen whale embryos develop upper and lower teeth that simply never erupt.
Applying this daily in the morning and at night beforebed made an amazing difference to the time it takes for my herpes blisters to heal.Another topical product Ive just started using is lemon balm. I was put on to this wonderful stuffby a friend, and it not only helps clear up herpes blisters, it also reduces swelling (I get terribleirritated skin and swelling around my groin during a heavy outbreak) very quickly and soothesrashes and irritated skin.These are just a few of my tips on how to clear up herpes outbreaks. Because baleen is made of keratin, it rarely fossilizes and has not been studied much—making it important on this excursion to comb the beach in search of the sloughed baleen in addition to recovering the whale’s bones.

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