Beyond providing excellent care for the institution’s collection, Lincoln Park Zoo’s veterinary staff also conducts research to advance the science of veterinary medicine.
Read on to get a closer look at ongoing veterinary research projects.
Internal Anatomy of the Hornbill Casque
Hornbills are a group of birds native to tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia that have a casque, or ornamentation, on their upper beaks. Each of the 54 hornbill species displays a casque with a different shape, size and color. These external differences have been described extensively, but very little has been reported on the inner structure of these unusual features.
A project conducted by Lincoln Park Zoo Director of Veterinary Services Kathryn Gamble, D.V.M., permitted better understanding of the inside of the hornbill casque. As the veterinary advisor for all hornbill species, Gamble took a special interest in this structure. Knowing that the casques were hollow and probably connected to the sinus and nasal cavities, she utilized three different types of imaging to determine just what was going on inside!
Casques were examined using radiography (“x-rays”), contrast radiography (“x-rays with special dye”) and computed tompography (“CAT scans”). Additionally, skull specimens from zoos across the country were given hands-on examinations.
Through this imaging, it was determined that these casques were indeed hollow and connected to the sinus cavities. A new space, or “casque sinus,” was identified that was intimately connected to the rest of the sinuses. Furthermore, it was determined that the casque was not connected to the lower beak sinuses but was connected to the upper beak.
Such information will be helpful to other veterinarians when determining how to best approach hornbills with injury or disease of the casque. Because of the discovery of the casque sinus and its connection to the deeper sinus and nasal cavities, zoo veterinarians are now aware of the possibility of cancer or infections that begin in the casque extending throughout the sinus system.
Peregrine Falcon Comparative Plasma Chemistries
The Chicago Peregrine Project was started in Chicago in 1989 with a goal of re-establishing a self-sustaining population of peregrine falcons to the Midwestern United States. At the start of the program, only one breeding pair was known to nest in the area. Thanks to the efforts of the project team, 12 pairs are now breeding. In 2004, Illinois became the first state to remove the peregrine falcon from the endangered list, upgrading the species to threatened.
The Lincoln Park Zoo hospital veterinary staff has assisted with this project, beginning with blood collection from chicks in the nest. Veterinary technicians collect a small blood sample for genetic testing and sex determination. They then place two bands on the chicks’ legs, aiding future identification and tracking of the falcon’s travel patterns.
Beyond working with chicks in the nest, veterinary staff are called upon when fledglings have landed on city streets. The birds are transported to Lincoln Park Zoo’s C.H. “Doc” Searle, M.D. Animal Hospital, where they are assessed by the veterinarian for injury and given supportive care, if needed, until they can be placed with a rehabilitator for releases.
A female peregrine falcon hunts at North Avenue beach. This female and her mate nest on St. Michael's church in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.
In a separate project, paired plasma samples were collected during routine banding of 50 peregrine falcon nestlings over the last four years. The plasma was used to compare to evaluate the efficacy of different lab processing methods (routinely spun samples in a centrifuge versus samples collected from a hematocrit tube) in the hope of expanding testing opportunities for the species. The plasma also provided blood chemistry reference values for clinically normal wild peregrine falcons aged 12–40 days.
Preliminary data shows little to no differences in plasma chemistry values between the two testing methods. All results appear to be within accepted standard laboratory variances for young raptor species.
For more information on the Peregrine Project:
www.fieldmuseum.org (The Field Museum)
www.fws.gov (Fish and Wildlife)
www.birds.cornell.edu (Cornell University)
www.Peregrinefund.org (The Peregrine Fund)