Northwest Trek keeper/veterinary technician Deanna Edwards cradled the massive head of Ellis the moose in her arms, taking care that his breathing was regular as he lay on the grass, anesthetized, in a Free-Roaming Area field.
He made a low-pitched thrumming noise as he slept, sounding a bit like a machine of some kind had invaded the quiet of the forest. But, nope, it was just the normal vocalization of a sedated moose – and this forest “house-call” was all in a day’s work for Ellis’ dedicated veterinary and keeper team.
Vet on the ground
To Ellis’ rear, Northwest Trek veterinarian Dr. Allison Case lay on the damp ground, using the powerful light from a headlamp to expertly examine the moose’s ailing hoof. His left rear leg was splayed out atop a mat. Case, aided by Free-Roaming Area keeper Dave Meadows, keeper Haley Withers, veterinary technician Sara Dunleavy and Edwards, gently moved the 900-to-1,000-pound moose into this position, taking great care not to strain or stress the spindly legs that carry all that weight.
“It’s OK boy. It’ll be all right,” Case murmured to Ellis as she worked on his left rear leg. She positioned it on a stack of pads, carefully inspecting the entire length, but paying particular attention to the hoof.
“He has ulcerative interdigital dermatitis,” Case said. In lay terms, that’s an inflammation in the sensitive tissue between the moose’s two toes.
Sharp-eyed Free-Roaming Area keepers have been paying extra attention to Ellis, one of the six moose that live in the Free-Roaming Area. They log any signs of problems he might have walking through the forests and meadows, and Case follows up with inspection, x-rays and treatment as needed.
On this day, lying on the near-frozen ground, she painstakingly cleaned the hoof with a bluish-colored disinfectant called chlorhexidine and thoroughly dried it with gauze. Next, she filled the area with a multipurpose ointment that combats inflammation, bacteria, and fungus, plus helps with discomfort.
X-rays in the field
Along the way, Case took field x-rays of the moose’s hooves and rear legs so she would be able to compare the healthy leg to the ailing one. Once x-rays were taken and treatment complete, she wrapped the hoof and lower leg with gauze in much the same way a human doctor would dress an ankle wound.
“This is my patented breakaway bandage to hold in the medications for 24-to-48 hours,” she explained. “It’s carefully designed to work its way off without additional intervention.”
The 6-year-old moose also received injections of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as boosters of preventative vaccines. “Any time we have a need to get hands-on with an animal like Ellis, we make sure that his routine vaccinations are up to date,” she said.
Back on his feet
When all the procedures were complete, Ellis received injections of drugs to reverse the anesthesia and help him wake up. The moose slowly got to his feet, his legs a bit wobbly at first, then sauntered into the forest before laying down to rest.
All told, it was about two hours – in 36-degree weather – from the time Ellis was anesthetized until the point he was awakened and went on his way. But despite the cold on this early winter morning, Ellis’ team worked with determination, purpose and compassion.
“This is a wonderful example of the teamwork it takes to care for each of our 187 animals of 36 species,” Northwest Trek Deputy Director Rick Dietz said. “All of them benefit from extraordinary animal care by knowledgeable keepers every day. And when one is sick, it receives first-class veterinary care, too.”