Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Follow up on Salisbury Zoo Deer – Part 2 of 3

By Terry E. Cohen, Council Member

In this post, I share the July 18, 2007, letter about the perruque-headed deer at the Salisbury Zoo, which I provided to Ron Alessi, chair of the Salisbury Zoo Commission, and Gary Muir, who was then Interim Zoo Director, with a copy to the mayor.

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Following that is the response I received weeks later. Both letters help shed some light on the condition affecting this deer. I should note that the response letter seems to indicate that the decision to castrate was made by the medical team, when I’ve heard such decisions have been a joint decision of zoo personnel, right on up through the director.

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The 2007 response letter, which you can click to enlarge and read, refers to the deer as a “cactus buck.” This seems to be a term more common to sportsmen. When I look at pictures of “cactus bucks” and pictures of “perruque heads,” I believe this latter term (from the French for “wig”) suits our deer in the Salisbury Zoo better. In Part 3, I’ll post links that will help you learn more about these terms and deformities.

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Whether they are considered the same condition or not, their cause tends to be the same: testicular injury, castration, or otherwise caused hormonal imbalance, with even does being affected and displaying antlers. Other suspected causes, according to literature, include possible endocrine issues or other illness.

Although I’m reasonably well-versed in animals for a layperson, I’m not a vet and I’m not a deer, so I can’t tell you if the animal is suffering substantially or if it’s just a little uncomfortable, perhaps bothered more than is typical by itching and flies. If the deer is eating and drinking well, interacting normally with the other deer appropriately, in all likelihood, its quality of life may not be impacted seriously enough to warrant euthanasia.

My frustration with this situation as expressed last night is, options may be (or may have been) available to improve the deer’s condition, as I explained last year.. Left untreated, I suspect it will reach the euthanasia stage. (Again, this is just my opinion based on research.) The deer’s condition is visibly worse than a year ago, and no updates were forthcoming from the administration until the public was newly shocked by recent zoo visits and/or the release of a picture just taken by a visitor.

The final image below that you can click on and enlarge to read is the email from our new zoo director, Joel Hamilton, referenced by Council Member Shanie Shields last night. The email clarifies a representation Shields made about “tying off” the growth. The entire growth has not been banded, just the long pendulous extension by the deer’s left jaw.

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This is not a mole. It is not a tumor, unless one is classifying abnormal growth generally as a tumor. Mr. Hamilton’s email, like the other two images, explains what the condition is. He also provides an update and some reassurances from his vantage point. Please take the time to read these communications because they do provide information and perspective.

As for whether or not this deer should be on public display, especially with an attraction near and dear to small children, is another matter for debate. On one hand, learning about abnormalities in nature (naturally occurring or man-made) can lead to better understanding. On the other hand, one needs to ensure that such education is handled in a way that achieves that goal without unintended consequences, and that the first consideration is the well-being of the animal.

If options exist to improve its condition or comfort, I hope the administration will ensure they are explored. As I said last night, I offered a specialist resource with whom contact would not cost a cent. We spend substantial taxpayer dollars to be members of the American Zoological Association (AZA) and the association for zookeepers. Perhaps these networks can be tapped for ideas and options.

I thank Mr. Hamilton for promptly responding in a way that council members can share with the public, and I leave the public to draw its own conclusions about this information.