OVAG 2021: All About Welfare

Day 2

Courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Elston; Fort Worth Zoo

The first panel for OVAG Day 2 was on ape husbandry and the welfare in both zoo and rehabilitation contexts. The panelists for this session included Drh. Yenny Saraswati, Dr. Jennifer Elston, zookeeper Ida Lewis, Conservation Manager Josephine Vanda, and zookeeper Cindy Cossaboon. The entirety of the panel consisted of topics including medical procedure training, enrichment, handicapped orangutans, orangutan diet, geriatric care, improving shifting compliance, reintroduction of hand-reared baby orangutans to their mother/surrogate, and the orangutan’s dislike of specific staff. The panelists explored the various orangutan husbandry and welfare needs of pre-release orangutans vs. zoo orangutans, and how carers can work to avoid human overdependency of pre-release orangutans but encouraging a more trusting relationship for the resident animals. The importance of mental and physical enrichment opportunity was also highlighted for resident orangutans, along with the consideration of the unique needs of handicapped resident orangutans. Speakers also touched on training in order to reduce stress and improving orangutan welfare, and exploring the various contexts where training is a useful husbandry and enrichment tool to both caretakers and orangutans.

The second panel of OVAG Day 2 discussed the nutrition of orangutans that reside in rehabilitation centers. The speakers for this panel included Dr. Andrea DiGiorgio, Drh. Fransiska Sulistyo, and Philadelphia Zoo’s Nutritional Director, Barbara Toddes. The first speaker, Dr. Andrea DiGiorgio discussed orangutan diet and foraging. Dr. DiGiorgio discusses how orangutans have a preference for fruit, which is higher in calories but not always available due to seasonality. While they have a preference for fruit, orangutans do consume non-fruit foods when near other available food resources such as bark, flowers, insects, pith, and leaves.

The next speaker, Drh. Sulistyo, spoke about her experiences with working with rehabilitation orangutans, and how to improve the nutrition and feeding plans in these contexts. Drh. Sulistyo explains that captive care cannot provide 100% of the food that is the same as their natural habitats, but try to mimic the same feeding patterns to prepare the orangutans with the physical and mental abilities to forage for food once they are rehabilitated and released.

The final speaker in this panel was Barbara Toddes, who discussed the feeding of orangutans at the Philadelphia Zoo. Toddes first discussed diet considerations, which are the digestive morphology, natural feeding behaviors, nutrient needs, available foods, and seasonal variation. Toddes then further broke down the nutritional needs of orangutans and non-human primates, with approximate needs of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals and how this coincides with the seasonal food availability and seasonal diet.

The final panel for OVAG Day 2 was on orangutan rescue and translocation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This session focused on the first-hand experience of Dr. Nabila Sarkawi, veterinarian from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Malaysia. Dr. Sarkawi discussed the rescue protocol before and then during the pandemic, and the various changes that occurred. While many of the protocols were similar in both contexts, the primary changes include 3M respirator masks, public wearing face masks, identifying the COVID-19 status of the location, often requiring COVID-19 swab tests, high-risk staff not on site, and extra precautions on orangutan symptoms. The session concluded with the specific challenges during the ongoing pandemic, which includes staff vaccination status; laboratory assistance to test COVID-19 in orangutans; public awareness of zoonotic disease and transmission; and being a red hotspot with orangutan conflict.  

Day 3

Day three of OVAG 2021 focused on pain management in orangutans and other apes as well as orangutan emergency and critical care. The concept of welfare in wildlife, especially those under human care is very important in the conservation field. Welfare refers to the overall state of an animal and is typically measured by factors such as longevity, behavior, physiology, and disease to name a few. In the field of orangutan (and other ape) rescue, rehabilitation, and release – welfare is of utmost importance. More specifically, topics of pain management were discussed, as many of the incoming individuals in rescue centers are injured or in the process of recovery. In order to care for the centers’ animals properly, a thorough understanding of welfare and pain management are required. 

OVAG 2021 participants also learned and discussed the importance of emergency and critical care in orangutans and other apes. Veterinarians working in a variety of settings (rehabilitation centers, release sites, zoos, and/or sanctuaries) may face emergency situations with animals in their care, and might need to provide emergency care. This calls for specialized training and protocol development. Participants were able to develop their own plans based on artificial scenarios. It is OVAG’s hope that this information can be used for next year’s workshop in order to provide more targeted training and information regarding emergency care in ape species.

The veterinarians and animal care staff in Southeast Asia care for the largest captive population of orangutans in the world, but do so under severely harsh conditions. Despite being a part of an extensive network of organizations, including world-renowned zoos and conservation organizations, wildlife from these regions will experience different ailments than those born and raised in captive environments. Day 3 of OVAG 2021 worked to empower Southeast Asian orangutan rescue and care centers with unique information on how they can better serve wild orangutan populations for the benefit of their species. 

Day 4

Day four of OVAG 2021 was used to engage participants in two different case studies. Case studies allow participants to utilize concepts learned throughout the conference as they are applied to specific scenarios. 

Day 5

OVAG 2021 Day 5 began with a talk on mental health for vets and conservationists. This session had the objective to raise the understanding of mental health issues off those working as veterinarians or in conservation, and bring awareness of OVAG as a resource source and support network. The session discussed how OVAG allows for collaboration and cultural understanding, where everyone can provide a place to feel comfortable discussing their issues; improve their knowledge and technical abilities; suggest career paths; and act as a service to employers and the IVMA to moderate expectations and suggest potential remedies.

Courtesy of drh. Agnes P. Sriningsih; BOSF Samboja Lestari

The day moved on to the second session on infectious diseases present in orangutans, such as Orangutan Respiratory Disease Syndrome (ORDS). Veterinarians and keepers working with captive orangutans are likely aware of respiratory problems in orangutans (e.g., airsacculitis, sinusitis, chronic pneumonia). ORDS is an intermittent bacterial infection and chronic inflammation that is unique in orangutans. The inflammation occurs in any region or combination of regions of the respiratory tract, which includes the sinuses, air sacs, cranial bones, airways, and lung parenchyma. Melioidosis, another systemic bacterial infection. Melioidosis infects both humans and other animals, and can be acute, chronic, and fatal. It is resistant to many antibiotics, is severely underdiagnosed, and endemic in S.E. Asia.

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