Eye to eye with Amur Tigers in Helsinki

One of the real highlights in the life of every veterinarian is to be able to apply their craft to more unusual animals and we are all looking up the rare species called “Zoo Vets”.

If you – like me – don’t belong to this exclusive club, then at least knowing one is second best.

In my case this applies to Sanna Hellström, an extraordinary women with unusual hobbies including circus acrobatics or collecting the streets of her city by walking them all starting at “A”……

After joining her on this task by ticking off a couple of “J” streets from her list, Sanna invited me to meet her on the next day at the zoo in Helsinki.

Sanna is also the Director of Helsinki Zoo, which is located on a little island outside the city center and – leaving Mia behind – I am meeting Sanna at the end of a bridge which – so far (a new direct tram link is currently being build) – is the only connection to the city.

Our first stop is – of course – the veterinary clinic of the zoo. Here I meet a dedicated team of vets and nurses prepared to see pretty much any species of animal that is coming through their door, including a fair amount of native wildlife and all sorts of animals that have been ceased at the international port and airport.

A very typical case is this water bird that was presented with an airgun pellet near its shoulder joint and an old, but reasonably well healed wing fracture.

Although most of the equipment is very similar to that of a normal small animal clinic, some features like the noticably larger examination table or the large variety of different sized transport cages indicate that a much broader variety of animal speczies are treated here. Most of these animals are also not as well behaved and as tolerant as a domestic dog or cat and the clinic needs to hold a wide selection of sedative drugs to safely work on these patients.

Much thought is given and time is spend on meeting both national and international regulations on transporting, handling and treating exotic spezies. It appears to me that here as everywhere in veterinary facilities these days more time is spend with administrative and regulatory tasks than with actual clinical practice.

However, in this case this is important not only to ensure the safety of the team and of the general public, but also to meet the basic welfare requirements of these animals and to avoid any mishaps which might result in the loss of a potentially very rare patient.

With the zoo being part of a number of international conservation projects, a lot of attention is given to reproduction work and at the time of my visit the zoo had just welcomed a new litter of tiger cubs. In return some animals reproduce very fast and measures need to be taken to avoid an overproduction of these animals in zoos.

Sanna no longer works in clinical veterinary medicine as all of her time is now taken just by managing the Zoo, which needs to reinvent itself all the time with new initiatives (like open evenings and late night admissions) and with permanent maintenance and new building work.

Some of the main attractions of the Zoo are the very rare Amur Tigers

and the probably even rarer Amur Leopards.

Both of these species are well adapted to the cold winter temperatures in Helsinki. This applies in fact to most of the animals kept at the zoo and there are only very few tropical species, which is of huge benefit for the annual heating bill of the zoo.

A fair amount of the natural features of the zoo island have remained unchanged, so that it is still possible – and very normal for a Nordic country – to have a camp fire on a dedicated site among all the animals and there is even a public kindergarden on the island. What more stimulation can you give to small children to encourage them to become future vets ?

Published by The Blue Vet

I am a veterinary surgeon with a German and Norwegian educational background. I have been the founder and for over 20 years I have been the senior veterinarian at the Virginia Water Veterinary Clinic in Surrey, England. When starting this blog I was also the President of FECAVA, the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations. In the summer of 2019 I left my clinic to work as an international locum and clinical advisor. I am interested in all aspects of clinical companion animal medicine, in endurance sports and in traveling and meeting people with and without their pets and especially in sharing my knowledge with colleagues in other parts of Europe and the World.

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