Providing optimal health all of the time: A giant experience

Yvette Kemp

Hopefully you have been following along with us and learning about some of the patients that arrive at the San Diego Zoo’s Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine. Although we do see many animals for medical reasons, there are times when our hospital residents aren’t visiting us because they need medical care. Sometimes, some animals stay with us at the hospital because their habitat may be going through some renovations. That was the reason for our recent visit by the Andean condors.

The Andean condor’s home at the zoo is located on Eagle Trail, just below the polar bear habitat, along with the Steller’s sea eagles, a pair of ornate hawk eagles, and a male harpy eagle. They are the largest raptors in the world and are found in South America. Their close cousin is the California condor and they are part of the New World vultures, birds that are more closely related to storks than to the vultures of Africa. Our pair, Chia and Bochica, have been at the zoo since October of 2012 and luckily, the veterinarians and hospital administration staff, who take care of their medical records, have not had to add a lot of information to their files. Yes, they have received their required vaccinations and check-ups throughout the years, but overall, their health has been smooth sailing.

The reason for the Andean condors coming up to the hospital on this occasion was to have some trees trimmed and maintenance performed in their habitat. As I mentioned, it is not uncommon for some of the animals at the Zoo to spend non-medical time with us. When there is a need and we have an out of public view habitat we feel is appropriate for their needs, guests are welcome to join us for a short stay. And Chia and Bochica were ready for their exclusive hospital visit.

So how does one prepare for an Andean condor visit?

Well for one, you need a large space. At the hospital we have an environment specifically tailored for hawks and eagles and is big enough for, you guessed it, hawks, eagles and even condors. Next, you need to have the appropriate perching; branches large and suitable for the condors to stand on. And our special for them… a room with a view! The hospital home the condors were placed in has a view of the hillside, looking down over the river hippo habitat. Literally, a change of scenery for our giant guests.

While the condors are just hanging out at the hospital for a short period of time, the animal care specialists do want to make sure that their accommodations are up to par. And it was during one of those checks that they realized a modification needed to happen in the male’s room. One of the panels had come loose and they needed to go in to fix it. This is when you realize just how big these amazing animals are! Andean condors can reach up to 4.25 feet long (1.3 meters), 24 to 33 pounds (11 – 15 kilograms) depending on if you are a male or a female, and, get this, have a wingspan of up to 10.5 feet across! That is over 3 meters! So, when the animal care specialists went in to repair the panel, it was incredible to see how giant the birds looked in comparison! It just goes to show that even though you may know all the facts about a certain species and you work with an incredible number of animals, it really isn’t until you experience them up close that that wow factor kicks in. And these guys certainly fall in the wow category!

They have headed back to their habitat now, but since they were here, we made sure they received their vaccinations and an opportunistic vet check on the way out the door. Even though we love receiving non-medical special visits at the hospital, it always makes us happy when they are able to return back to their home.

Yvette Kemp is an Animal Care Supervisor at San Diego Zoo Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine.

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