Chattanooga Zoo dealing with aging Red Pandas - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Chattanooga Zoo dealing with aging Red Pandas

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Photo by Gary Poole/WRCB-TV Photo by Gary Poole/WRCB-TV

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- For many years the Chattanooga Zoo has been home to three Red pandas, all of which are classified as geriatric, meaning that they are living well past their average life span. The average life span of a Red panda is 8-10 years and all three of the Chattanooga Zoo's Red pandas are 11 years of age or older.  

"The fact that the Chattanooga Zoo's Red panda population is so old speaks volumes as to the quality of care they are receiving from our incredibly passionate keepers and veterinary staff", said Darde Long, executive director of the Zoo.

As with any species, with old age comes health complications. In the last few days, the Zoo's Red panda, "Butch", age 16, has been acting very lethargic and has been refusing to eat.  The Zoo's veterinary staff has conducted X-rays and discovered that Butch is currently suffering from excess fluid around his lungs.  A sample of the fluids has been submitted for testing, as well as a blood chemistry panel.

"Butch is quite the fighter, but seeing as he has well exceeded the average life span of the Red panda, common ailments related to old age are only to be expected," said Dr. Tony Ashley, licensed zoo veterinarian.  

Butch's recent bout of sickness comes after the recent passing of "Bella", the Zoo's female Red panda, who was 11 years old at the time of her death.  Bella had been struggling for over a year with a chronic deep skin infection in which multiple treatments, including examination by the University of Tennessee's School of Veterinary Medicine, were exhausted.  

Results from Bella's necropsy showed that the stress relating from battling the skin infection was compounded by a rare form of Addison 's Disease, completely asymptomatic in exotic animals and very difficult to diagnose.  

Long says, "Naturally, everyone at the Zoo is very saddened by Bella's death and is concerned with Butch's recent health issues; however, we are extremely grateful for the long lives of all of our Red pandas and the many memories that have been made during their time with us at the Chattanooga Zoo."

In addition to Bella and Butch, there are a handful of other species at the Zoo that are living well past their average life span. The Zoo's Water monitor "Suzie Q," a lizard species with an average life span of 20 years, will turn 23 this year and "Jack," a  Spider monkey,  with an average life span of 20 years old, will turn 37 this year.

The Chattanooga Zoo is taking the necessary steps to modify each animal's care as they age. These modifications include food and diet, more frequent blood work, minimizing the use of sedative procedures, modifying their habitats, and a closer observation overall by keeper and veterinary staff.

"These animals are our family and therefore we treat them much like you would treat a grandmother or grandfather, with respect, compassion and lots of attention and love," Long said.

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