Riverbanks shines a light on aging animal care


Special for The Press and Standard

Longer Lives for Animals Means Innovative Approaches to Ailments

Columbia, S.C., November 30, 2023 – While Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is buzzing with excitement about the all-new Wild Lights illuminated wildlife safari and Bridge to the Wild vision for the future, the Zoo’s animal care and veterinary teams continue to remain focused every day on the outstanding care of more than 3,000 animals in every phase of life. Many of the Zoo’s large cats, primates and other animals are advancing in age and require geriatric care. In observation of American Diabetes Month, Riverbanks would like to introduce you to one of our aging residents that is being treated for this disease that also affects more than 37 million people in the United States.

Imi is a 25-year-old (geriatric) female Hamadryas baboon. During one of her routine exams, the veterinary team found that she had high levels of glucose in her blood. Further testing revealed that she has non-insulin-dependent diabetes (Type 2 diabetes). Much like a human she was immediately treated with a carefully controlled diet and an oral medication in an attempt to control her blood glucose levels.

The team at Riverbanks is passionate and committed to ensuring the animals live their best lives. Dr. Martha Weber, Riverbanks’ director of animal health, explains, “Each animal at Riverbanks receives an individualized care plan based on routine exams and any specific issues that arise. In partnership with the animal care team, we take a holistic approach to health care.”

Over the past year, keepers have been training Imi to urinate on command to monitor glucose in her urine and to voluntarily accept being poked with a lancet to monitor her blood glucose levels. Weber continues, “We would love to try one of the wearable glucose monitors that people can use, but we’re pretty sure baboon fingers would quickly pry one of those off.” On November 16th, Imi underwent more testing to dig a little more deeply into any underlying causes for the insulin resistance, and Dr. Weber is also looking at some of the newer human medications for managing Type 2 diabetes.

Advancements in veterinary medicine, nutrition, and husbandry techniques are helping animals live longer in zoos and aquariums around the U.S. As a result, animal care professionals are developing creative and innovative plans to address the unique needs of geriatric animals. The team at Riverbanks is leading the way in providing this specialized and compassionate care to ensure the longevity and well-being of all the animals in their protection.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to more than 3,000 magnificent and fascinating animals and one of America’s best public gardens. The Zoo opened on April 25, 1974, and for nearly five decades, has connected individuals, families and school children with the natural world. Riverbanks is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in animal care and welfare, education, recreation, science and wildlife conservation. It is the mission of the Zoo and Garden to create meaningful connections and inspire actions that will have a lasting impact on conservation. For more information, visit riverbanks.org.