As every animal ages, changes in care become necessary. For humans, we introduce new foods to our diets, take medicine to keep us healthy, and frequently go to doctor check-ups. This same concept can be applied to the aging animals that call the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo home.
When it comes to animal care, it’s all hands on deck. The Animal Care Staff works closely with the Veterinary Team setting up the best care plans possible. For geriatric animals, medications help manage conditions, diets are modified, and quality of life charts are created to help Animal Care Staff monitor their overall health at any given time.
A great example of exceptional aging care is Konni, a spot-nosed guenon, who arrived at the Zoo in 2012 at 16 years old. Known for her in-charge-ways, this geriatric monkey immediately ruled the roost and connected with guests as an ambassador for her species. Several years later, at the age of 23, Konni was diagnosed as diabetic. With this diagnosis, our team began implementing changes straight away. Konni was started on oral medications to help manage her diabetes, fruit was removed from her diet, and Konni was trained to provide voluntary urine samples in order to monitor her insulin levels. In August of 2022, to further provide better care, her Animal Care Team set a goal to train Konni to voluntarily accept insulin injections and test her levels by pricking her finger. The process was slow, as we were asking a lot of Konni!
When beginning to train Konni to accept insulin injections, we started with saline injections because the behavior needed to be reliable before insulin could be introduced. Month by month, the injections would become more frequent to ensure she was used to the process. For example, the first month she was given a saline injection once a week, month two, she was given two injections a week, and so on. Step by step and week by week, we saw progress in Konni accepting injections. We took this same patience when training her to allow us to prick her finger. We began by training Konni to reach through the mesh and give us her hand. Once successful, we worked on her allowing us to touch her fingers, apply pressure, and eventually prick her finger.
All this training continued up until we noticed a decline in Konni’s health. Konni’s quality of life had been impacted and all treatment options had been exhausted. On June 10, we made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Konni. Our Animal Care Team and Veterinary Staff worked incredibly hard to provide Konni with outstanding care. As a testament to the hard work done, at 27 years old, Konni lived to be the oldest spot-nosed guenon in an AZA accredited zoo and far surpassed the life expectancy of her species.
The relationship and trust we were able to build with Konni was meaningful and allowed us to progress in her training and, ultimately, her care. Konni’s care story continues to guide us as we care for other geriatric primates to ensure that each animal is provided with special care to meet their needs.
Written by Emma Cordray, Africa Journey Zookeeper