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Kiss of Life

Monday, 31 December 2007

Animals in Dublin Zoo get Kissing Bug treatment


The South American Kissing Bugs

Dublin Zoo is pioneering the use of 'Living Needles' a major new technique in which a blood-sucking insect is used to test the health and well-being of its animals.

The South American Kissing Bugs or Triamtomid Bugs' voracious appetite offers keepers and vets a stress free means of gaining samples of blood without the use of needles and syringes.

Insects are introduced to the skin of the animal where they spend up to half an hour gorging on its blood. This is in turn extracted from the bug using a syringe so the blood can be tested in the lab. The method is painless to the animal and also leaves the insect unharmed.

The team in Dublin are being taught how to use the technique by Andre Stadler the curator of Wuppertal Zoo in Germany where the idea was first conceived. Keepers were able to use the technique with excellent results on Yasmin the Asian elephant who recently gave birth to her second calf in late February.

It is difficult to take blood from an elephant using a needle, particularly in the latter stages of gestation. Her keepers didn't want her getting upset or stressed, yet it was imperative that they monitor her hormone levels regularly as a sudden in progesterone is a strong indication of the onset of labour.

During a short trip to Dublin Andre Stadler, Curator of Wuppertal Zoo said:

“In Germany, we use the bugs to test many species where blood sample collection is often not possible without anaesthesia. However we have never used them to test hormone levels in pregnant elephant's before and we are watching Dublin's efforts with excitement and great interest.”

Because the blood is collected without stress to the animals it provides a sample of excellent quality, free of contaminating stress hormone. The Zoo therefore intends to use the method on many species throughout the collection including giraffe, zebra, rhino and tapir.

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