The American bison is North America’s largest and heaviest land mammal. The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is home to three bison – two-year-old Verbena and Yarrow, and 19-year-old, Mary Ann. To ensure the health and wellness of the Zoo’s bison herd, each individual receives an annual wellness exam from the Zoo’s veterinary team, which includes a full body exam, bloodwork and a hoof trim. Much like human feet, bison hooves also experience the effects of daily wear and tear, so footcare is an important part of hoofstock healthcare at the Zoo. On Tuesday, January 12, in the bison barn at the Zoo’s Oklahoma Trails habitat, Mary Ann, the eldest member of the bison herd, received a hoof trim, as part of her annual wellness exam.
Once Mary Ann received an anesthetic, the veterinary and hoofstock care team brought in medical equipment and prepared the barn for her exam. With a team of five veterinary members and four hoofstock caretakers working on various tasks simultaneously, the exam took an hour and a half.
Because foot health is so essential for hoofstock animals, the Zoo’s veterinary and hoofstock teams participated in specialized training sessions to learn more about regular hoof maintenance and prepare themselves for hoof trimming procedures. Because it is made of the same protein, keratin, hooves grow similarly to human fingernails. Overgrowth becomes a problem for hoofstock animals when they do not wear their hooves down evenly.
Overgrown hooves can effect how an animal walks and lead to stress on the joints, which can result in the development of arthritic symptoms. As animals age, they naturally become less active and do not wear down their hooves as well as they did when they were younger. This was the case with Mary Ann.
When Mary Ann’s caretakers noticed signs of hoof overgrowth, they acted quickly and contacted the Zoo’s veterinary team to schedule an exam to trim her hooves before the overgrowth caused long-term damage.
In addition to receiving a hoof trim, Mary Ann also received a full diagnostic exam, which included a physical exam, urine and blood sample collections, a dental exam and vaccinations. Though the exam took place in the bison barn, her samples were taken to the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital, located near the bison habitat, to be evaluated.
Mary Ann’s results came back within an hour and confirmed that she was in excellent health. In the wild, American bison can live upwards of 20 years. In human care, bison can live an average of 30 years. At 19 years old, Mary Ann remains a healthy bison– a testament to the exceptional care she receives from her caretakers and the Zoo’s veterinary team.
Meet Mary Ann, Verbena and Yarrow by purchasing a Bison Wild Encounter at the Zoo! As part of this experience, guests can go behind the scenes, listen to a caretaker chat and have a special interaction with the bison. Wild Encounters happen Thursday through Monday at 10:30 a.m. with limited availability, weather permitting! Guests can purchase a Wild Encounter experience at www.okczoo.org/tickets.
Photos: Will Huebner and Sabrina Heise
-Jennifer D’Agostino, Director of Veterinary Services