Zoo Tales: Zoo Trains Army For Vet Mission
BY TOM GILLESPIE
Special to the Pilot
Conflicts in war zones around the globe have brought to the forefront the human death and suffering in those areas. We have only to turn on the evening news or read the weekly news magazines to see and hear of the devastation.
What too often was going unreported, though, was the suffering and killing of domestic, zoo and private-collection animals caught up in these same areas, until photographs and stories began to move readers around the world. As early as 2001, animal welfare organizations and humanitarians became aware of the tragic plight when a fundraising effort spearheaded by the North Carolina Zoo raised nearly $500,000 for the Kabul (Afghanistan) Zoo. The zoo had come to the attention of zoo experts worldwide when the news media reported on the dilapidated conditions and the suffering animals, most notably the zoo's now-deceased lion, Marjan.
The zoo, previously one of the best in South Asia, had crumbled during 20 years of war and famine; nearly 300 animals were killed during guerrilla fighting during the 1990s.
Over the years, the N.C. Zoo has continued to raise funds to train personnel and to help reconstruct zoos caught up in war zones and areas of unrest, from Baghdad to Cairo.
Recently, the U.S. Army has become involved as well. Always faced with civil-affairs efforts in these areas, they have how been faced with caring for - and sometimes recapturing - zoo and private-collection animals in areas where war and civil unrest has thrown these countries into chaos. These abandoned animals often become the victims of cruelty and neglect as populations are forced to flee their cities, leaving these animals behind, often to fend for themselves.
The Army has recently looked to the N.C. Zoo's veterinarians for vital training in animal care, a job which they are now often forced into. Species recognition, proper diets and feeding, personal safety, diseases and recapture are only a few of the areas of training. In early spring, the zoo hosted 24 soldiers from Fort Bragg, in nearby Fayetteville, for their initial training in these areas.
"The group of personnel that we took to the North Carolina Zoo to do training was an assortment of personnel within our brigade," said Maj. Anne Hessinger, a veterinarian with the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade at Fort Bragg. "At any given time, we have personnel deployed in more than 20 countries worldwide. This training will help our medics who are involved with exotic animal species in those countries.
"It will help them advise both the country and the U.S. Embassy team on the threats and the management of those animals," Hessinger added.
These Army civil affairs teams that deploy are made up of four people, with the fourth person being a medic. Along with their training in trauma for war-zone missions, these teams are also trained in veterinarian specialties, agricultural management, preventive medicine and environmental science.
"These are soldiers," Hessinger said, "so the most fun thing that they did (at the zoo) was the dart-gun training." Although the veterinarian training that the soldiers received at the N.C. Zoo was scheduled for only one day, Hessinger said that she would like to see it continue and expand.
Thanks to the zoo staff, Army personnel are receiving important training that could help save animals injured or made homeless by war and world unrest.
Tom Gillespie works for the public affairs office of the N.C. Zoo.
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