“At the time, no one in the world had successfully raised a five-month-old orphaned baby beluga whale. Our choices were decidedly few.”
“I was in Chengdu, China, preparing to perform a colonoscopy on a female giant panda with an undiagnosed intestinal disorder.”
And so begin just three of the twenty-nine stories collected in The Rhino With Glue-On Shoes, and Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients. The book is a compilation of individual stories written by a variety of veterinarians who work in the zoo and wildlife fields.
It just happened to be published right while I was doing a veterinary student externship at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. One of the book’s editors, Dr. Lucy Spelman, had recently moved on from her position as head veterinarian and then director of the zoo, so the whole veterinary staff was talking about it when I arrived.
Poor vet student that I was, I was going to wait my turn for it at a local library. My budgeting plans were waylaid, however, when I found out Dr. Spelman would be doing a reading at a local bookstore! I had to attend, of course, and bought a copy signed by both editors.
Why You Should Read This Book
The Rhino With Glue-On Shoes is written for anyone who loves wildlife and is interested in their care and conservation. With a forward by Jack Hanna himself and the backing of a big New York publishing house, it’s clear that the stories have a wide appeal.
Along with the baby beluga and shocky kangaroo, the contributing veterinarians share their personal stories of exciting work with mountain gorillas, bottlenose dolphins, rhinos, lemurs, and many more charismatic and not-so-popular (weedy sea dragons, anyone?) wild animal species.
Many of the stories end well for our exotic patients, as the triumphant veterinary team solves a medical mystery with the help of some incredible technology and medical specialists who are quick to assist. The orphaned beluga is still alive and well, and an adult male forest elephant in Gabon recovers successfully after getting a snare removed from his foot.
But there are also a number that don’t end as happily. A red-ruffed lemur dies slowly over several weeks as the team of veterinarians and pathologists scramble unsuccessfully to identify the disease process that is killing him. A baby giraffe seems to recover well from a hip dislocation with the help of an innovative splint but then is found dead in her stall one morning of a broken neck.
As with any compilation, the writing style and quality changes from one story to the next, but I was genuinely impressed with the way that all the authors were able to bring us along on their adventures in a natural and appealing way. Perhaps the credit for that should go more to Dr. Spelman and her co-editor, Dr. Ted Mashima?
The book also does an admirable job of tying together the clinical aspects of zoological medicine with the conservation and public health roles within the realm of wildlife health. Dr. Spelman’s introductory notes between stories are especially helpful in enabling readers to make these important connections. She concludes with these words,
It’s essential that vets who work with wild animals find ways to integrate their expertise into the broad scheme of things. We need to share what we know and how we feel about wild animals and their health, and do our best to promote healthy ecosystems in the places where we work.
Even if you don’t necessarily want to become a zoo or wildlife veterinarian, this book provides a unique window into a fascinating area of the veterinary profession. I highly recommend it for veterinarians, students, and all those who are drawn to the wild creatures that share this planet with us.
Have you read it yet? What was your favorite story? Can you recommend any other books that I might be interested in?
Please leave a comment below!