Lion MRI – The Power of Partnerships

MSU College of Veterinary Medicine partners with Potter Park Zoo of Mansing, Mich., to provide an MRI for a male lion from John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Mich. Copyright MSU University Relations.

Animal health, care and well being are central to all AZA accredited zoos and aquariums – a recent event at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids Michigan highlighted this along with the power of partnering with other institutions.     

Docha, a six-year old male lion who has been at the John Ball Zoo since he was two-years old, has had several seizure-like episodes over the course of the past year, and Zoo veterinary staff led by Richard Bennett could not pinpoint a cause. After consulting with animal care experts, the staff decided to utilize Michigan State University’s (MSU) large-animal, open-bore MRI, the first ever at an academic institution.

The magnetic resonance imaging machine has a 70-centimeter opening that is nearly 50 percent larger than the standard MRI.  This allows doctors and researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine to analyze larger animals, typically horses and cows. But this time, the patient was Docha, who typically shares his exhibit, Lions of Lake Manyara, with two female sister lions.

The lion from John Ball Zoo undergoing his MRI. Copyright MSU University Relations.

The lion’s journey began in Grand Rapids, where John Ball Zoo Curator Barb Snyder and staff transported the animal to Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo. Once there, Zoo veterinarian and Curator Tara Harrison – a graduate of MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and an adjunct professor – worked with Snyder to anesthetize the animal, and afterward it was taken to MSU for the procedure. 

Although the veterinarians at the college are used to treating large animals, this is the first lion ever to be examined via MRI at the school. Not only is the procedure being used to help John Ball Zoo officials determine the next course of action in Docha’s health, but it also will help train future veterinarians.  John Ball Zoo’s animal health program includes veterinarians and an on-site hospital, and Zoo officials often consult with dentists, oncologists, anesthesiologists and other human medicine specialists. 

“Zoos and animal facilities in West Michigan are fortunate to have a world-class animal health care facility such as the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine as a close partner in the critical care of animals,” Snyder said. 

Partnerships like this are central to much of what AZA institution do – they bring together people and organizations that have complimentary resources and skills.  Synergistic relationship like this allow everyone to benefit – perhaps most importantly, the animals.  

Tim Lewthwaite 

This entry was posted in Animal Health, Animal Management, Lion, Zoo. Bookmark the permalink.

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