Auckland Zoo cheetah gets health check up video

LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff.co.nz

Vet staff at Auckland Zoo give their 10-year-old cheetah Anubis a full health check.

To give a 55-kilogram predator a medical check up, you will need: a team of vets and animal handlers, a $60,000 breathing apparatus, a hospital bed, an x-ray machine, several sandbags, anaesthetic, an endoscope, a pink fleece blanket, and somebody on standby with a shotgun.

At least, that is what Auckland Zoo is using for Anubis.

Anubis is a 10-year-old male African cheetah. Ten years is getting on for the cats, which typically live 10 to 12 years in captivity, and Anubis is at the zoo's New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine at for a checkup.

Getting one of these animals into the theatre is not easy. Anubis arrives fully sedated and is carried in from the back of the van by six zoo staff. They lie him on a bed in the middle of the room and feed a ventilator tube down his throat. His ears are inspected and a vet listens to his heartbeat with a stethoscope.

As cheetah age, they can have problems with arthritis and stomach ulcers. The vets aim to spot these issues before they can get serious.

"We just wanted to do some routine x-rays and some bloods and make sure there's no arthritis starting, for instance, or there's no other problems with his liver or kidneys. If we did find something really early that means we can do much more about it," senior vet manager James Chatterton says.

It's just as well the cheetah is unconscious, because the check up subjects him to all kinds of indignities. The vets shift him into compromising positions to get different x-ray angles, snake camera down his throat, and shave patches of fur off his legs. At one point he has to wear socks.

"Fundamentally we treat cheetah like a domestic cat. So we use the same drugs at similar dose rates and the same anaesthetic regimes. The big difference is that a cheetah could potentially harm us," Chatterton says.

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A constant reminder of this danger is a member of the zoo's "gun team", who stands in a corner with a shotgun slung from his shoulder. He is there as a last resort - to protect zoo staff in case the animal wakes up and can't be brought under control. Auckland Zoo has never had to shoot an animal during a medical procedure.

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For this procedure, the vets are aided in their work by a new ventilator machine: the Tafonius. This is only the second time it has been used at Auckland Zoo, which is the only wildlife facility in New Zealand to have one.

The Tafonius can be used to breathe for animals ranging from 15 kilograms to 1500, as well as administer anaesthetic and monitor animals' vital signs. Previously vets had to hand pump air into animals' lungs.

Although the machine cost $60,000, Chatterton thinks it was money well spent.

"[It] means we can ensure Anubis is as healthy as we think he is."

Anubis is one of just two cheetahs at Auckland zoo. The other one is his brother, Osiris. The pair arrived in Auckland in 2007, after being hand-reared alongside other cheetahs by Cheetah Outreach in South Africa.

The pair's role is to be ambassadors for their species. Cheetah are Africa's most endangered big cat, rated as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Anubis and Osiris play an important part in raising the profile of their wild relatives.

"They're used to help educate people about the plight of the cheetah," team leader of carnivores Lauren Booth says.

"I suppose it's that wow factor when you can really connect someone to wildlife and they have more of an interest to then go and make a positive change in their own life."

Booth knows the zoo's two cheetah better than most. She has been working with the pair since 2007, and says that although they are brothers their personalities are "like chalk and cheese".

"Anubis is a bit more serious, out on walks he takes a more alert, on watch, serious kind of role, whereas Osiris kind of likes to muck around and look at things, basically be a big goofball."

Last week the pair caught a wild rabbit that ventured into their enclosure.

"Osiris would have chased it and caught it, and Anubis would have eaten it ... Anubis is a guts," Booth says.

The procedure goes smoothly, and Chatterton thinks Anubis will make it to a ripe old age.

"In captivity cheetahs tend to live a lot longer than they do in the wild. Although he's just over middle age for a captive cheetah ... hopefully he's got several years of good health ahead of him."

 - Stuff

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