In this chapter, we have described aspects of managing anaesthesia as a critical first step for ensuring effective health care for the giant panda. Preventive medicine practices are also essential for deterring disease, detecting early indicators of a problem and revealing how a given animal fares compared to others in the same facility or even in the genetically valuable, worldwide ex situ population. Effective prevention means that high, routine priorities include regular health examinations, quarantine, vaccinations and parasite control. It does appear that a giant panda maintained under good husbandry and veterinary care generally remains healthy, although occasional problems remain with gastrointestinal disorders, colic, ascites, dermatophytosis and breeding traumas. More and more giant pandas will live to 'old age', and this process needs to be managed humanely. There is early evidence that the common medical problems of the geriatric giant panda include predominately osteoarthritis, renal insufficiency, epistaxis, hypertension and dental disease.
In terms of priorities, we first recommend the need for more efforts devoted to operant conditioning. Behavioural training can allow veterinarians to provide noninvasive diagnostics and treatments to giant pandas throughout their long life-span. This will permit routine ultrasonography, blood sampling and blood pressure monitoring (among other techniques) which, in turn, will allow rapid expansion of medical databases, earlier diagnosis of potential problems and more effective treatments.
Second, it must be realised that there will always be the occasional need to use anaesthesia in this species. Although many giant panda managers are comfortable with using injectable ketamine as a short-term anaesthetic option, this is not an adequate drug for performing many necessary long-term veterinary procedures, such as surgery or endoscopy. There is a need for more capacity building in China in the arena of alternative and advanced anaesthetic approaches. This particularly includes training in the use of intubation and gaseous anaesthesia. The transfer of such technology and basic knowledge will permit addressing serious medical issues that require prolonged, hands-on access to a safely anaesthetised giant panda.
Finally, geriatric medicine is booming in zoos that are now managing animal populations that are able to live longer due to modern advances in husbandry and veterinary care. To date, dealing with geriatric giant pandas has been largely occasional, due to the few individuals reaching advanced age. This is changing dramatically. The good news is that the few older individuals that have been studied have been so quite thoroughly. Not surprisingly, giant pandas, like all living creatures, eventually suffer from age-related organ system failures. However, it also is evident based on our limited information, that this species can respond nicely to therapies that have been developed for other aged animals. Now there is a need to focus attention specifically on the more systematic collection of hard data, the problems to be expected and especially the solutions to ensure that the growing giant panda population ages gracefully with a high quality of life.
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