You CAN Teach An Old Sea Otter New Tricks

My topic for a post today came from my brother, who sent me this video about a sea otter with arthritis in his elbows.

Learning to Care for Aging Zoo Animals

The article is about the new challenges arising because of the longer life spans of animals in captivity. Common issues found in “geriatric” captive animals are “arthritis, failing eyesight, muscle atrophy, kidney problems, flagging appetite, cancer and bad teeth.” Boris, the polar bear from a few posts ago, also suffered from bad teeth and arthritis. Normally animals would be killed in the wild as a result of their failing health, but in captivity veterinarians can utilize an array of medical advancements to keep the animals alive and healthy as long as possible.  Captive animals receive physical therapy, drugs, antibiotics, CAT scans and MRIs, as well as chemotherapy for cancer. The article gives many examples of animals being treated for issues in their old age, such as penguins, chimps, and lemurs.

My favorite stories were about the sea otter that got an ovarian cyst removed and a grouper getting laser treatment and chemotherapy for skin cancer. I think it’s amazing how much medical technology can be applied to exotic animals and how far veterinarians and zoo staff go to keep the animals as healthy and happy for as long as possible. I think the distinction that zoos are not adding a giant population of elderly animals to the zoo, rather finding better ways to manage the ones they already have is a good one. I’m sure the animals pile up quite a substantial medical bill, and it’s important to realize most animals don’t require such extreme treatments. Personally, I like hearing about the care provided to the zoo animals because sometimes I wonder if the animals are just being exploited for shows and their welfare is not the number one priority. When I was younger, I hated that animals, like dolphins, were taught tricks for shows. Although shows are a nice financial plus for the organization (maybe to pay the medical bills!), teaching captive animals specific behaviors is really important for their mental enrichment and health procedures. For example, the sea otter from the video doesn’t showcase his basketball skills for the public. The behavior is really about helping his arthritis because of his advanced age and giving him a mental stimulus. Having animals understand the concept of training can be really crucial to their well-being and make it much easier on staff to help keep the animal as healthy as possible with the least amount of stress (i.e. training a rhino to pee in a cup!) Medical care with captive animals really begins with their trainers and keepers. Since animals cannot communicate in words and have evolved to not show their pain or weaknesses openly, animal observation by care takers is vital for catching issues before the animal gets in too much pain.

If you didn’t get your “cute sea otter” fix yet, here is a super short video of sea otters floating and holding hands while they sleep. My advice would be to mute it because the people in the background are kind of annoying. Have a great weekend!

Sea Otter Mom & Pups. Wiki Commons: Clayoquot

Sea Otter Mom & Pups. Wiki Commons: Clayoquot

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