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Sunday, September 22

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Treating a monkey with diabetes

Many people ask what medical issues non-human primates have that are similar to us. One medical problem that many do not realize is that monkeys can have diabetes too.

My name is Morgan and I am a member of the Primate Care Team at Zoo Atlanta. I have been at the Zoo for just over a year. I work with the small primates including the Angolan colobus monkeys. We have a group of nine colobus, ranging in ages from a few months to 14 years old. In our group we have one female individual named Kinshasa and she has diabetes.

Before I started at Zoo Atlanta, I was not aware that a monkey could have diabetes. Since I have been here, I have learned a lot about how to manage and care for an individual who has diabetes. Kinshasa has had diabetes for over six years and was diagnosed by the Veterinary Team here at Zoo Atlanta. The teams noticed no physical signs of diabetes, but veterinarians were able to diagnose Kinshasa after collecting a blood sample and running tests. Kinshasa was placed onto a medication that would help to manage her diabetes.  Living in a group of nine other colobus, in order for Kinshasa to receive her medication, she would need to be temporarily separated. She has learned to station by herself away from the rest of the group and she does this twice a day. When providing medications to any animal, we always attempt to separate that individual out to ensure no others receive any unprescribed medication. 

In order to check that she is doing well, we will collect a voluntary urine sample. We collect anywhere from two to seven urine samples a week for testing. In order to do this, Kinshasa had to be trained to urinate on cue. At Zoo Atlanta we train with what is called positive reinforcement. This simply means that we reward Kinshasa with a high-value food –  in this case, a peanut – when she does the behavior we ask for, and we ignore anything we do not ask for. We use a clicker that we call a “bridge.” Whenever the requested behavior is being presented, the animal hears a click from the clicker which simply tells the animal that he or she has done the requested behavior and a reward will be coming.

Inside our building we have an overhead tunnel that the monkeys can go up into. The initial stages of training this behavior included being there when Kinshasa urinated. Whenever she would be in the overhead and urinate, we would use the clicker and give her a reward.  We place a plastic kiddie pool under to collect her urine. We can continue to do this if we need to, but eventually Kinshasa caught on and realized that when we asked her for overhead, she will enter the overhead and when she saw the pool go down and the verbal cue, she knows to urinate.  This training has allowed the Primate Team and the Veterinary Team to provide Kinshasa with quality animal care.
Morgan W.
Keeper I, Primates

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