Rachel survive. Medical staff needed to go into her stall two, three, four times a day to change I.V. bags and check on her. Animals without training would not have been able to tolerate all the handling and procedures unless they were anesthetized first, which is always risky for animals.
The vets wasted no time. They moved Rachel to the Animal Health Center, limited her movement and placed a catheter in her neck so they could give her I.V. solutions and antibiotics. They discovered a second tooth was infected, and took it out. They raised her dose of antibiotics.
The day after Christmas 2005, laboratory tests—donated to the Zoo by Aurora Consolidated Laboratories— showed that Rachel’s kidneys were not functioning well and thus not clearing the antibiotics from her system. The levels were rising and that wasn’t good. She now also had a bacterial infection in her kid- neys. “We were taking blood samples from her twice a day, which we could do only because she was trained to accept having blood draws,” said Dr. Wallace.
She and the staff went back over Rachel’s history to figure out why certain antibiotics would not work. When Rachel was 11 days old, records showed, she had become gravely ill and couldn’t stand because of an infection in one of her bones. The vets thought she had a systemic infection, and gave her the proper antibiotics to fight the infection. She recovered. Now, however, the vets speculated that Rachel might have had some kidney damage from the original infection or antibiotics. They consulted experts at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison. Vets there said that they had never seen an animal recover with such severe kidney damage. Despite the bad news, the Zoo vets did not plan to give up.
“We thought it was worth it to fight for Rachel’s life because she was young, and her problem was not cancer or some chron- ic condition,” Dr. Wallace said. “It was potentially curable and she would be functioning once healed. Camels that live in captivity can live to be 21 or 22 years old.”
On Jan. 8, 2006, vets took Rachel off the antibiotics that clear through the kidneys and substituted antibiotics that clear through the liver. They started giving her large amounts of I.V. fluids to flush her system. “A few days later, the kidney values dropped and the deterioration of the kidneys stopped. She was on I.V. fluids for about 3 ½ months and on two types of antibi- otics, very high doses, for four months,” said Dr. Wallace. “It’s very rare for non-domestic animals to be on I.V. fluids more than a few days,” she noted. “There is no animal at this Zoo that I can think of that has been on I.V. fluids for months.”
Then it was time to deal with the next problem. It was almost as if Rachel were a cat with nine lives—going through life-threatening problems and surviving each one. Rachel was not eating well because she had persistent abscesses where the two teeth had been removed. Dr. Scheels, who has provided dental care to the Zoo’s animals since 1981, said that this was not good. Skull X-rays showed that Rachel had quarter-size, decaying, jagged bone shards in the tooth sockets. An equine dental expert said that the bone shards could work their own way out. By March, the edges of the shards could be felt in the tooth sockets and Dr. Scheels was able to pull them out
completely. Soon after that, the sockets healed, the abscesses went away, and Rachel got better.
In early May Rachel was outdoors with the other camels again but a cold snap hit and a shivering Rachel went back to the hospital. She had shed her winter coat because she had spent the winter in the warm indoors. By May 26 the weather had warmed. Zoo staff sighed with relief when they heard that Rachel was going “home” to the camel yard for good. It had been a full six months since Rachel’s ordeal had begun. She had been a big focus of the staff. Schedules were based on having a camel- trained zookeeper present when Rachel was hooked up to I.V. lines during the day. Zookeepers also were needed to clean her stall and help with daily treatments. By the end, Rachel had lost nearly 200 pounds—probably a good thing since she was a bit overweight, said Dr. Wallace. Looking at Rachel now, you might
never know anything had been wrong.
Among the keys to her survival was the new Animal Health Center, opened in late 2003. In the old hospital there were no indoor stalls big enough for Rachel—only outdoor stalls. She could not have been treated with I.V. fluids. “The I.V. bags would have frozen,” Dr. Wallace said. “Rachel needed 50 liters a day, which is really heavy. At the new Animal Health Center, we built big rings in the ceilings to hang I.V. bags. Rachel was the first big hoof-stock animal to test out the new rings. And they worked perfectly.”
When the new Animal Health Center was under con- struction, vets had to decide how big to make hoof-stock stalls, given their limited space and budget. Ironically, they chose to make the stalls large enough to hold an adult female camel. The stall doors are 7 feet 2 inches high. Rachel’s humps cleared them by 1½ inches.
Dr. Wallace said Rachel’s survival came down to good monitoring, good facilities, and “everyone pitching in.” Veterinarians, vet technicians, zookeepers who walked her every day or sat with her to get her to eat, dentists, horticultur- ists (who brought in branches of trees for Rachel to eat), and others who kept watch on Rachel so she wouldn’t chew her I.V. lines—all helped to save Rachel’s life. So, when you visit Rachel in the camel yard, think about the six months of unprecedented medical care that she received. Her story of survival is not good. It is great.
By Eric Stelpflug & Paula Brookmire
Alive Winter 2007