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Caring for a diabetic tamarin

As many guests enjoy the golden lion tamarins within the Zoo, most might not know about the three golden lion tamarins that are behind the scenes and under the care of the Orangutan Team. The group consists of Pele, who is a male, and his mother Robin and father Theo. Robin requires a little bit more care, being a diabetic tamarin, and the team members within the Orangutan Department are tasked with monitoring her needs in order for her to receive the excellent level of animal welfare that Zoo Atlanta prides itself in having. Animal welfare is a hard term to wrap your mind around, but the orangutan team incorporates Zoo Atlanta’s vision in providing Robin excellent animal care using innovative and scientific approaches. Thus, monitoring Robin’s diabetes takes a whole team effort, and veterinarians heavily rely on observations animal care team members make daily.

To begin the day, keepers check Robin to make sure she is active and alert prior to offering her a dose of diabetes medicine. Animal care professionals, just like dog owners, utilize food items to help cover the medicine smell and taste of Robin’s medications. Typically, we separate Robin temporarily from Theo and Pele in order to be certain that the boys do not receive any amount of her medicine. We may have to vary up the way the medication is presented in order to meet Robin’s standards. However, she normally takes this medicine well in a small raisin or grape.

Several times a day, Robin is checked on by keepers to make sure she is still doing well, and any small change in behavior is noted. The group’s daily diet is also divided up into four feedings throughout the day to help Robin’s blood sugar levels remain steady. Finally, during the group’s final feeding, Robin receives her PM dosage of diabetes medicine using the same technique listed above. During each of these checks, team members monitor Robin’s behavior, activity level, and any other information that might be a helpful tool for veterinarians to make any adjustments. Such examples might be whether Robin is more active or less active than before, or if she is drinking more or less water than usual.

Furthermore, the Orangutan Team attempts to free-catch a urine sample from Robin at least once a week. “Free catch” means catching a urine sample that does not hit any branch or other object within her habitat so that it is as uncontaminated as possible. This sample is then tested for glucose and ketone levels to help the veterinarians monitor her diabetes. Keepers also train Robin to enter a small mesh crate. The crate allows us to hand feed Robin, check on her more closely, and increases her comfort level in the crate just in case she needs to be transported to the veterinary clinic for an exam.

As a result of these interactions with Robin, we have grown quite fond of her little quirks. When we are observing Robin during any of these times, she may receive super worms and waxworms. When Robin forages for worms, she makes soft vocalizations as she searches for them. We enjoy these moments observing Robin engaging in this natural behavior, and these moments are a constant reminder of why we enjoy our occupation.

Bret P.
Primate Team

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