What is the scariest thing that ever happened to you while working on an animal?
We were bringing a big female tiger up to the hospital to be endoscoped (a long, plastic tube with a light at the end that is slid down into the tiger's stomach to look for ulcers and such). A specialist was at the zoo to help with the endoscopy. He and the anesthesia technician and three zookeepers helped me load the tiger into the back of a pick up truck to ride up to the hospital.
Drugging big cats is not easy. Some anesthesia drugs can cause nerve damage. Others can cause respiratory problems. Those are considered a little safer. I went with the safer drug. I sat down by her tail with the I.V. while the anesthesia technician sat by her head. The three keepers and the specialist sat around the edge of the truck. We got ready to move up across the park to the hospital.
At the last minute I noticed that the tiger's lips and tongue had gotten pale and her breathing had slowed. This is a known side affect of the drug I had used, but it is not good. It was possible that she could just stop breathing and die. So I decided to give her a small booster to help her breathing and color. I watched her for signs of recovery. She started to breathe normally again. Everyone in truck had been patiently waiting. We were ready to go.
Suddenly I noticed that her breathing had gotten even quicker. Then I saw that she was starting to blink her eyes. I was getting a little worried. Maybe I had given her too much of a boost and she was going to wake up! Then suddenly… she growled. It was a low, guttural growl from her throat. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Tigers are one of the most dangerous animals. We did not want to have one wake up with us all in the back of a pick up truck! The others in the truck jumped at the sound of the growl and for one second everyone's eyes looked at the tigers face. It was twitching!
All three keepers and the specialist bailed out of the truck going over backward like navy seals going overboard into the sea. I felt like yelling, "Abandon ship! Abandon ship!" as I saw them all disappear over the side. I was alone with the anesthesia technician and, of course, the waking tiger. I thought we should get her back into her bedroom in the tiger house, but it would take several people to lift her and I could see the zookeepers disappearing in the distance, as they ran for their lives. We had no choice but to wait it out.
In the end it was not as bad as it seemed. The growling was just some air that had passed around the anesthesia tube through her vocal cords so she could make noise. But at that close range, the growling was terrifying. In the end she didn’t wake, but it was a scary moment I will never forget!
Zoo Field Trip Activities
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Amsel, Sheri. "Scariest Thing That Ever Happened While Working on an Animal?" Exploring Nature Educational Resource ©2005-2021. January 19, 2021
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