First Great Ape Blood Draw at the OKC Zoo

Preventative medicine, including routine examinations and bloodwork, is an important part of the health and wellness of all the animals at the OKC Zoo. Historically, blood samples have only been collected from most of our large collection animals during anesthetic exams. The Veterinary team has been working alongside animal caretakers throughout the Zoo in order to be able to obtain these blood samples voluntarily through operant conditioning, in an effort to work towards decreasing anesthesia time in collection animals. 

Pace Frank, lead Great Escape caretaker, has been working with Elok, our 17-year-old male Sumatran orangutan, in order to familiarize him to a blood collection sleeve for the last 6 months.  Pace worked closely with the Zoo’s maintenance department to design a custom sleeve that would contain his arm safely in order allow the veterinary technicians to be able to get a blood sample.  The new sleeve was installed in April, and Elok began sticking his arm in it immediately.  Elok enjoys his blood collection training sessions and is rewarded for his participation with his favorite juice and snacks.  He is also very curious and spends his training sessions engaging with staff and watching the process.  After ten training sessions, veterinary technician, Liz McCrae, was able to collect a blood sample from Elok voluntarily on May 26, 2017, which was the first blood sample collected through behavioral training with a great ape at the OKC Zoo. 

Staff will continue weekly training sessions with Elok, with the goal of continuing to collect blood samples monthly.  These samples will be used to continue to monitor Elok’s health as he ages and his blood samples will be stored inside of the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital’s laboratory for future research projects. 

- Liz McCrae, veterinary technician and Pace Frank, lead Great Escape caretaker

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