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Flamingos, Riverbanks Zoo animals get annual checkups this fall

Monitoring animal health is something Riverbanks Zoo tells News 19 is important.

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. — When leaves change their colors in the fall, and flamingo babies start turning pink, Riverbanks Zoo knows that it's time for annual checkups.

Monitoring animal health is something Riverbanks Zoo tells News 19 is important. 

Martha Weber is the zoo's director of animal health. She's in charge of all the animal annual checkups that happen this time of year for some, like the flamingos.

"I start at the beak, make sure there aren't any problems with the beak, check their eyes. Sometimes the birds can have cataracts or something like that, that might impact their vision, so I'll check that," Weber said. "We'll come down, check their body condition, make sure they have a good fat layer on them, make sure their feathers are in good condition, they don't have any external parasites or feather problems. And then we'll work our way down to their feet. Flamingos, they spend almost all their time on their feet, so that's really important, just to make sure there's no disease or pathology there."

The process takes about four to five minutes per bird to avoid stress. Weber watches out for things like kidney or liver disease in the older birds nearing 40 or 50 years old.

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She takes blood samples from only 10-20% of the 42 birds to get a pulse of the flock.

Zoo visitors like Marion Readett appreciate this process.

"To come to zoos like this, which the animals are everywhere and they're more comfortable and I listen and know about what great programs you do to enrich their lives, as well as to help with keeping breeds going and everything and it just, it means the world to me," Readett said.

Other zoos across the country appreciate this kind of diligence in checkups, too.

"We will trade animals with other zoos to make sure that we can pair up those animals that have the most valuable genetics and so sometimes they might send us a flamingo to put some new genes in our flock or we might send some flamingos to another zoo so that they can enhance their flock," Readett said.

RELATED: Richland County Council votes on funding for the Zoo, additions to Congaree, and COVID relief funds

Other animal checkups are based on breeding seasons and when exhibits are being adjusted or transformed.

According to Riverbanks Zoo, vets have been delaying the gorilla checkups because of the social dynamic of the young babies, but they'll get their checkups soon.

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