by Dr. Louise Beyea, Lake Superior Zoo Veterinarian
Decontamination. Zoonotic disease. Disinfection. Quarantine.
These words, and many other scary terms, are screaming from the headlines as our world
reacts to the emergence of a new, highly contagious virus. These words are nothing new to the
animal care staff at the Lake Superior Zoo.
The zoo follows requirements set down by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),
the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health in
order to provide the best possible care for the animals at the zoo, and to stay in compliance with
The AZA requires zoos to have quarantine facilities and procedures for new animals that are
coming into the zoo, and as a way to isolate current zoo animals that may become sick.
Separate facilities are mandated for primates, small mammals, birds and reptiles. The Lake
Superior Zoo goes beyond those minimum standards and has additional quarantine facilities for
carnivores and hooved animals.
Every animal that joins the family at the zoo goes through a quarantine period of 30, 60 or 90
days, depending on the species. That time period insures that a new animal is unlikely to
transmit illness to the other residents of the zoo. This quarantine process is extremely important
when bringing in an animal that is going to join another animal of the same species that already
lives at the zoo.
The health work on a new animal begins even before the soon-to-be Duluth resident leaves its
original home. The veterinarian from the “sending” zoo provides us with the new animal’s
medical record and after a review of the information, we request a physical exam and
appropriate tests prior to the animal’s shipment to the Lake Superior Zoo. Testing varies widely
based on the animal’s age and species. Each state has different requirements for import and
export of exotic animals, and usually at least three legal documents are necessary to allow
shipment. If the animal is being transferred by an airline, additional rules apply.
Once a new animal arrives at the zoo, it lives temporarily in a quarantine space until we have
completed another physical exam and multiple tests. One of the most complicated quarantine
situations I’ve encountered in my 15 years at the zoo was with five of our current troop of ring-tailed
lemurs that arrived at the zoo in 2014.
Quarantine procedures for primates are more complex that those required for other mammals,
and the quarantine of the lemurs was going to be more complicated that the “standard” primate
quarantine protocol because this group of lemurs had a history of contagious disease.
Half of the lemurs lived outdoors at their previous Midwestern zoo and some had contracted
toxoplasmosis, a common microscopic parasite that can be found in the soil. This disease is
zoonotic, meaning it is spread between animals and people. Two of the lemurs had shown
symptoms of toxoplasma infection and had been on medication to treat the disease.
The AZA recommended that this lemur group come to the Lake Superior Zoo as part of the
international association’s Species Survival Plan breeding program, and local zoo officials
decided to shoulder this important responsibility and accept the troop of lemurs.
We consulted with multiple zoo veterinarians and a specialist at the University of Minnesota to
devise a quarantine plan that would allow us to house a new group of lemurs, treat any
preexisting disease, protect the health of the zoo’s animal care staff, and prevent the spread of
toxoplasmosis to other animals at the zoo. We were concerned that the rigors of transport and
new living quarters would be stressful enough to the lemurs that if one of them had a mild case
of the disease already, it could flare up into symptomatic disease.
We decided to have the lemurs live in the quarantine space built for hooved stock. This area
consists of adjoining stalls that are connected by a sliding door. This two-stall plan allowed the
zookeepers to shift all the lemurs to one holding stall while the other stall was cleaned of
accumulated urine, feces and spilled food.
When the lemurs arrived, the first order of business was an individual “salon treatment” with a
unique haircut so each animal could be easily identified.
Two medications, specially ordered in lemur-friendly fruit flavors had to be accurate dosed for
each animal and given on a twice-daily basis. These medications would prevent any residual
toxoplasma organisms from creating havoc while the animals were adjusting to their new home.
Keepers normally wear protective gear when feeding the zoo’s animals and when cleaning up
after the animals. Gloves and rubber boots are standard. When working with primates, the list of
required protective gear expands to include a N95 face mask and a face shield to protect the
nose, eyes and mouth from any germs that could be aerosolized when the keepers are cleaning
the animals’ enclosures. Working with these new lemurs entailed the addition of a long gown in
addition to the usual hands, feet and face protection.
Only certain keepers were allowed to care for the lemurs in quarantine, and the lemur chores
had to be performed after the keepers were done with their usual feeding and cleaning duties to
avoid spreading lemur germs around the zoo.
The feeding and water dishes, cleaning tools and lemur toys used in the lemur quarantine area
were limited to that area only. Specially marked rubber boots for quarantine use stood by the
door next to the supply of gloves, masks and gowns.
During their 60-day stint in quarantine, each lemur received a physical examination and
tuberculosis test. Every day, keepers recorded the amount of medication given to each animal,
the time the drug was given, and if the lemurs spit out any of the medication. Fortunately, lemurs
have a sweet tooth and they were actually very compliant about taking their fruity treats.
All of the lemurs came through the quarantine period without any signs of illness and were
moved into their new home in the Primate Care Center. The lemurs were apparently extremely
happy and frisky during their two months in quarantine - two of the females became pregnant
during that time and we welcomed two sets of lemur twins several months later!
We are fortunate that the lemurs have remained healthy and have continued to contribute to the
Species Survival Plan. Several lemurs born in Duluth have been transferred on to other zoos in
order to maintain genetic diversity in the nation-wide population of ring-tailed lemurs in AZA
Dealing with the current global outbreak of a new virus will be exponentially more difficult than
the 60-day ordeal the Lake Superior Zoo’s lemurs experienced before they could live in their
new home. We hope everyone gets through their own “quarantine” as can remain as healthy as
this group of lemurs.
If you have enjoyed this blog, wish to have questions answered, or have ideas for other zoo
topics you’d like to see addressed, please send me an email. You can find me at
email@example.com. Let’s stay at home, wear masks if we have to be out so we can keep our
germs to ourselves, and keep it wild inside until next month. Dr. Beyea.