June 15th 2013 | Veterinarian

Mitchell Bush, DVM

Dr. Bush has enjoyed many roles in his medical career: consultant, writer, mentor and teacher. He was once a visiting scientist at Kruger National Park, South Africa. With over 350 scientific publications, he has contributed extensively to the knowledge base of the zoo veterinary profession.
© Caravette Productions Ltd.

00:00:01 - 00:00:03

That’s gonna age me.

00:00:03 - 00:00:18

But as I told Loretta, “I was born at a very young age in California, in 1941.” And can you give us your name, and where you were born in California?

00:00:18 - 00:00:21

Okay, Mitch Bush, I was born in Santa Ana, California.

00:00:23 - 00:00:25

What’d your parents do?

00:00:27 - 00:00:56

Well, kind of a many, my parents moved all over California, I was brought up with my mother and stepfather, and he had numerous jobs, and during my early years, I never went to the same school for more than a few months until I got in the sixth grade, and then we settled it in Maricopa, California, which is a small city, just outside of Bakersfield, and I went through high school there.

00:00:57 - 00:01:00

And what were your parents doing?

00:01:00 - 00:01:25

They were farming at the time. We had about 3,000 acres down outside of Maricopa in the area they called the Flats, and it was a mixed farm for mainly cotton, alfalfa for seed. We had some soybeans, we grew castor beans, we grew sugar beets and just, and mixed melons, so we had a very mixed farm.

00:01:27 - 00:01:27

What was your childhood like?

00:01:27 - 00:01:49

Were you bringing home snakes or … No, not really. I don’t have any other people to compare it to. I just never, you know, I had the occasional cat as a pet, but that was about it. Didn’t have many exposures to animals during my childhood.

00:01:49 - 00:01:53

Did they interest you or wasn’t on your scope?

00:01:53 - 00:02:03

I just didn’t, you know, I had a normal curiosity about, you know, birds and stuff like that, but I didn’t go collecting ’em, or put ’em in jars, or anything like that.

00:02:03 - 00:02:09

Well, did you ever get to zoos when you were younger?

00:02:10 - 00:04:11

Not that I can remember. I don’t remember a zoo experience, you know, in my younger years, so, no. Well, so it leads me to ask, when did you decide, and why did you decide “I wanna be a veterinarian?” Well, that’s kind of an interesting story is, as I mentioned, I grew up on a ranch outside of Bakersfield, and there were two agricultural schools in California, San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, and University of California at Davis. And I didn’t particularly wanna go to San Luis Obispo, and I went, decided I wanted to try to go to Davis, and so went up there to apply for admissions, and went in, and sat down, and they asked me what I wanted to do for a major. And I said, “Well, really, I don’t know.” I said, “I’d like to just go in classified, take a few courses, decide what I wanted to do and do that.” “No, you have to take a major.” I said, “Really?” They said, “Yeah, if you gonna enter a college, you have to take a major.” I said, “Well, okay.” I said, “Well, I’ll take engineering”, because they just put Sputnik up then, and they were just screaming for engineers everywhere, and I did enjoy mathematics. And so they handed me the curriculum. It was 18 units of physics, calculus and everything in the first semester I said, “No, I don’t wanna be an engineer.” She said, “Well, that’s the fastest change of major I’ve had in a long time.” So then I said, “What else?” And so finally they got down alphabetically to veterinary medicine, and I said, “Okay, let me see that.” And it was history, English and a bunch of electives, which was basically undeclared. And so I said, “Okay, I’ll take that” and I figured I would be used, you know, not going anywhere.

00:04:11 - 00:05:41

And then started in, and everybody kept telling, “Well, you’re not gonna get into vet school. Nobody gets into vet school, blah, blah, blah.” And you all heard that. And so I said, “Well”, that’s got a bit of a challenge, so … I went through the second year, which you could apply in the second year, and I was deficient in English and history on my grade, on my curriculum, but I thought, “Well, I’ll go take the interviews, and just kind of, you know, see what it was, get ready to maybe take the interviews year three, year four, like many of the other people did.” So I went in there and they were talking to me, and they said, “Well”, they looked at my grade point, it was a 2.4, which is a C+ and then I said, “Yeah, but look at my grade point now.” And it was a 4. And they said, “Well, how did you go from a C+ to a 4.?” I said, “Well, I quit playing football, and I decided to study.” So I got in to vet school with a 2.4 which nobody would ever do now, and deficient in English in history, which I had to make up in junior high in Bakersfield that summer. And that started me in the veterinary curriculum. And it was kind of the same way after, as I was graduating, I didn’t know what to do. I said, “My gosh”, and then I heard about an internship at Angel Memorial in Boston and I said “The internship” and “Oh yeah, but you’ll never get into that.

00:05:41 - 00:07:54

That’s, they only take seven people out of, you know, the entire country.” I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” So I applied, and I got there, and stayed there for about a year, over a year, I did my internship at 15 months, and then stayed on an extra year as junior staff, and that was some of the best training I’ve ever gotten in veterinary medicine. It was just total immersion into medicine, into clinics, surgery, pathology, radiology, and it was just total immersion, it’s the best training I got, and there I saw my first zoo case, they called me from the Franklin Park Zoo there in Boston, said they had an animal that was injured, and so I said, “Okay, well”, they … So I got in the SPCA ambulance, which Angel Memorial was an SPCA hospital. We drove out to the zoo, and here was an impala with a dangling leg fracture. I said, “Well what do you do to anesthetize it?” and say, “Well we have acepromazine”, and that’s all they had. So I had no idea, so I think the curator loaded up a dart gun with acepromazine, which I think he used eight CCs which is a tremendous dose, and they darted it, and of course he didn’t become immobilized, he just got more stumbling, was injuring his leg, so ran in and grabbed him and I’d brought him some ZeroTol, which is an IV barbiturate, and so I got hit a vein and anesthetized him, and then we drove him back to the hospital there in Boston, on 180 Longwood Avenue, which was the old Angel Memorial, and switched him over to gas anesthesia and repaired his leg and went driving back, I had to keep watching, keeping the needle in the vein. I got car sick going to Boston traffic, so got back, fixed the leg up, and of course with that dose of acepromazine, he was sleeping and really drowsy for a day and a half, we kept him, turned him, and so finally they brought somebody from the zoo that thought they knew what they were doing and said, “Oh, he is thirsty.” So they poured some water down his throat and drowned him. So that was my first zoo case.

00:07:54 - 00:07:56

Well now let me go back to Angel Memorial.

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So you graduated from veterinary school?

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00:08:03 - 00:08:06

And what was it like?

00:08:06 - 00:08:11

I mean, what were your first impressions when you got to this place?

00:08:12 - 00:10:15

Well, it was interesting, and the Angel Memorial, I grew up, my last six years out in farm country in Maricopa where I went to school, had 100 people in the whole entire city, so I was immersed right in the middle of Boston after driving across country, and at that time there was a state board that you had to take to practice what you do, and for medicine, whether it’s veterinary or human medicine, and the state boards were the same in date in California and in Boston, of course I had to pass the state board in Boston to be able to go to fulfill my internship, and there was a classic story of, well they always flunk one Angel intern, because the veterinarians in that are doing the state board were all from Amherst, which was a college that had lost its accreditation from the AVMA, and so there was a rumor that they had an ax to grind. So we sat there and we got some advice to don’t tell anybody you’re going to Angel while you’re taking the test. And so we kind of just tried to make ourselves wallflowers. And the last day when they were giving us our practical, they called out our numbers, and so they came and said, “What’s your name, and where are you going to practice in Boston?” I said, “Uh-oh, we’ve had it.” And it was supposed to be all confidential, you’re just given a number and you write your number on it, and so that, but they had it figured out. But fortunately everybody in our class graduated. So here we walk in and they give you a uniform with a white jacket, white pants, and you had to get white shoes, and my last two years in vet school, we wore jeans and a T-shirt. I mean that was in … So it’s a little bit of a culture shock, and they actually want you to wear something around your neck called a tie when you were in the clinic, so …

00:10:16 - 00:12:32

And it was just total immersion there. We had some of the best, I think diagnosticians in the country, and they just took you under the wing, and within about three or four weeks, you were seeing your own cases, and my gosh, it was such an awareness in you, such a steep learning curve, because in vet school we had clinics only in the afternoon of our senior year where now vet students are in the clinics in their junior year in almost full-time clinics their senior year, which we didn’t have. And I had done one spay while I was in vet school, which is unheard of now, and then you were immersed into that surgery where you had three of the best surgeons at the time, I think, in small animal medicine. And so it was just an immersion. Then you had your overnights at about six weeks, and that’s when all the people that had been mentoring you and everything say “Bye, we’re going home.” And then you’re sitting there with not knowing what’s gonna come in during your overnight, and trying to sleep, and then having people bring animals in that have been traumatized by cars, or had been vomiting for three weeks, and they decided it was time to bring it in at two o’clock in the morning and, or a dog that was itching for a couple of weeks, and they’d tell you, “Well, we come in now, ’cause we don’t have to wait so long.” But that … I didn’t mind the overnights, ’cause a lot of the times it was an emergency that you had to do, but it was those others that kind of stick out that people were kind of taking advantage of it. But it was such a unique experience that after I finished my 15 months there, I said, “Gee, this is … I really wanna explore this” because I think it was right at the time that I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was learning, I was still on a steep learning curve, so I stayed on for another year, and I’d spend all my free time, if I had an afternoon off or a day off, I could come in, scrub in, and sit in surgery, scrubbed in, and they’d just bring cases to me, because some of the senior staff didn’t wanna do routine surgery so I could be sitting doing surgery for six, eight hours a day, which I loved at the time.

00:12:32 - 00:14:32

And then at the end of the second year, I was deciding, “Well, what do I wanna do?” I said, when I’d see a case come in, you know, after the first year, you know, there was new stuff coming in, but after the second year there’s always new stuff, but about 85% or 95% of what you were seeing coming through the door every day was something you’d seen. There was nothing new. You know, maybe slight variations, but nothing really new. And I decided, “Well, I’m not sure that, you know, I wanted to do this, because there was no really continual stimulation or challenge for that.” So then I decided, “Well where do I wanna go now?” And I was thinking, well research, I wanted to look at research, and there was a few jobs open, there was a job opening at Johns Hopkins Medical School in comparative medicine, and I decided, “Well, if I wanna do research, I probably better do it now, because there’s smart kids coming out every year, and if I wait and go into practice or do something else, and then decide I wanna do research, you know, there’s gonna be a lot of other bright kids coming up.” And so I was there for five years, and during that time, we were doing the pathology for the Baltimore Zoo, because it was comparative medicine, comparative pathology departments, and so we started seeing a lot of animals coming in from the Baltimore Zoo. They weren’t, some of ’em I did, you know, I was seeing things that should have been treated, should have been detected earlier, should have picked up stuff on preventive medicine, so then I started going out there on my spare time more, I’d stopped by in the morning on my way to work, and stopped by in the way back in the evening, and then go in on the weekend. So that kind of got me hooked, and then I met Clint Gray, and that’s gonna be an interesting story later on in the discussion. And he invited me to apply for the job at the National Zoo.

00:14:32 - 00:14:44

Well how did you, let’s just do a quickie, but how, you’re working at John Hopkins in comparative medicine and did you hold a title?

00:14:44 - 00:16:19

Were you a Professor, Assistant Professor, or … Yeah, assistant professor, and at that time, veterinarians at Johns Hopkins had dual appointments. So if you were in comparative medicine, you also had a dual appointment in one of the other medical things, and I started out in Department of Surgery, human surgery. So I taught dog surgery to human medical students, in their senior year they had a dog lab, and so we’d go up there, and, you know, teach ’em how to do splenectomies, lobectomies, anastomosis, and various things, and teach ’em how to monitor animals under anesthesia, and instilled in them that they were responsible for looking after them and aftercare, and checking their dogs post-surgically, and things like that. And then the last two years, I switched over to the Department of Radiology, and that’s where I met some of my colleagues that got me interested in radiology, Dr. Everett James and Dick Heller, who we’ve published quite a few things together, and that was kind of another, opened up a new area of diagnostics that I became interested in. So you were, your first exposure was the antelope at the Boston Zoo that you saw. And then now you’re getting exposure at the or at the Baltimore Zoo. Yeah, first through necropsies, first thing, started seeing, we were doing necropsies on the animals that died at the zoo.

00:16:19 - 00:17:00

And so I went out there and I said, “Well, you know”, I just went out and started talking to him, and the Assistant Director at the time was John Moore, who was a really, was geared me to keep coming out there, and kept me interested in zoo medicine, and went on to be Director at a couple other zoos, Albuquerque and New Orleans, I think he was down there. And I went out there and first I wanted to talk to the veterinarian that was doing the work, ’cause I didn’t, you know, I was doing it for free and I didn’t wanna impose on him, or if he was part of his salary, and he greeted me with open arms.

00:17:00 - 00:17:35

Dr. Wagers was his name, he was close to retirement, and what he had been giving him the yellow medicine or purple medicine or some, that’s all the people knew that he was giving, but he’d say, he said to me, “Mitch”, he said, “I’m so glad somebody’s coming out to do it.” He says, “I don’t know a lot about this, I’ve just been trying to fill in thing ’cause nobody else would go out and look at it.” So I held him in the highest respect that at least he went out there, tried to do what he could because nobody else was at that time interested in helping with the medical care — or part-time?

00:17:35 - 00:17:41

he was just part time, he was just on call, I think he was, he was not a, he had his own practice or something else.

00:17:42 - 00:17:57

They were just calling maybe a day or two a week and he’d — Now, did you meet Clint Gray at this initial meeting when you were at John Hopkins, when you were in the Department of Radiology, or when you were at the zoo?

00:17:58 - 00:18:55

Okay, I met Clint Gray when I was at Baltimore Zoo, doing, you know, just donating my time. We at the Baltimore Zoo got some pygmy hippopotamuses at the time, they were giant pandas. They’d built a new pygmy hippo house, and Hippo House at Baltimore Zoo, and President Tubman from Liberia came over, and personally gave us these pygmy hippopotamuses, there was a big fanfare as you’re all well aware of in zoo situations when Rembrandt species come into a zoo, and so everything was going all right, and then one day I get a call from John Moore, he says, “Mitch, you better come out here. We got a problem with the pygmy hippo.” And she’d given birth, and she’d prolapsed her uterus. So we had about a two watermelon sized uterus hanging out of this pygmy hippo. I go, “Oh my gosh, well” …

00:18:55 - 00:19:01

I said, “I have no idea, you know what we should do.” He said, “Why don’t you call Clint Gray at the National Zoo?

00:19:01 - 00:19:36

They have pygmy hippos.” And I said, “Gee, okay, well, gee.” So with trembling hands, I picked up the phone to talk to Clint Gray and said, you know, I introduced myself, I said, “Clint, I’ve got this pygmy hippo that prolapsed its uterus and it looks like I’ve gotta anesthetize it. What do you do?” Well, for people who know Clint Gray, he had a very colorful language, and used very many expletives on seeing, discussing any case with you. He said, (Mitch imitates grumbling) “Don’t worry about it, Bush, (Mitch imitates grumbled speech) give it about 250 milligrams of Serilin.

00:19:36 - 00:19:38

Why don’t you add about 250 milligrams of promazine too?

00:19:38 - 00:21:20

Yeah, that’ll be fine, you know, no problem.” I hung up at the phone, I’d went to the mountain, I’d gotten the information, and so I go back, give it the drug, animal went down, replaced the uterus, and having a hard time getting it totally in. And so I was by myself, so on one hand I had a syringe with oxytocin and then pitocin to constrict the uterus, and I had my other hand in replacing the uterus, and I gave it the oxytocin, which constricts the uterus, so she squeezed down on my hand with the uterus constricted, the last part of the uterus averted, and we got it done, and of course with Serilin, they sleep for about two or three days, you know, and finally she got up, did well, I think she had another calf after that. And so I didn’t think much of it, you know, feeling pretty proud of myself that we had a success, and so about two or three months later, I don’t remember the exact time, I got this phone call, “Hey Mitch, how in the hell are you doing”, he said. I said, “Fine Clint, what’s up?” He said, “Well, I’ve gotta do my first pygmy hippo, how’d that dose work out that I gave you?” Of course, and I used a few exploitatives telling him that I didn’t think it was very fair, but that was Clint. But I give him all the credit in the world, he had an idea of an appropriate dose, and it worked, and he gave me the confidence to go ahead and try to do it. And so then that, we kind of talked back and forth, and I think he went on vacation and I went to … Went over there and covered for two weeks for him, drove over and did some work, and that’s how we kind of got together, and then they opened up a job and I applied for it. And that’s how I started at the National Zoo.

00:21:20 - 00:21:27

But you, when you were doing the pygmy hippo work, you were still at the — John Hopkins. at Johns Hopkins, yeah.

00:21:27 - 00:21:32

And was the part-time veterinarian, you said you were alone, wasn’t he assisting in the case?

00:21:32 - 00:22:25

he never showed up again. Yeah, when I was there I used M99 for the first time, which I … And unfortunately I killed a waterbuck, and the first time I used Xylazine, you know, I lost an animal. But that was just the way it was when we started out, we had no guidelines. If you look at the first dosages we got when we got it morphine or M99, they’re classic and I hope they have ’em framed somewhere. They’re extremely high doses, everything. And what they finally did was just, they gave it this dose and the animal lived, there was no therapeutic evaluation of it, and you had to be real careful with those doses. So what we had to do was basically restart, and figure out doses all over again.

00:22:26 - 00:22:31

And so that was some of the work that I did while I was still at Hopkins.

00:22:31 - 00:22:36

So you were, almost became the defacto part-time veterinarian for the zoo?

00:22:36 - 00:22:44

I was, yeah. Basically I was Baltimore Zoo’s veterinarian. While you’re still doing your full-time job. Right.

00:22:44 - 00:22:58

And when you had this opportunity to, did you bring things from Johns Hopkins that you had learned to your exotic animal practice, so to speak, as you were doing it?

00:22:58 - 00:23:00

What kind of things were you …

00:23:00 - 00:23:04

Had gleaning experience from that you could transfer over?

00:23:05 - 00:24:38

Well, the things I think I learned from Hopkins was some surgery skills, I continued, you know, working with human surgeons on certain cases, and things, they were doing radiology, I think I developed an appreciation and hopefully some expertise in that, because I was helping with some of the radiology research that was being carried on, and I think one of the most important things that I learned, which I continued to do up until actually now, is to use our human physicians as consultants. And there’s, you know, that’s so valuable, you know, many people think that zoo veterinarians are specialists, and do this, and I tend to challenge that. I think as a zoo veterinarian, you’re probably, your specialty as you’re a generalist. We know a little bit of, we have to know a little bit or are supposed to know a little bit about a lot of things. And we, the first thing you should know is when to ask for help, and try to seek out people that can help you or augment your cases, and if you can’t find that, then you need to know that you’ve gotta do some research, or some further study to help you answer those questions that you can apply to the medical or surgical care of the animals under your care. So I think that was an important thing that I gleamed from Hopkins, is there’s a vast resource out there to augment your practice in zoos.

00:24:38 - 00:24:41

What times were you at Hopkins?

00:24:41 - 00:25:11

What were the years, ’66 or … Ooh, let’s see, I graduated in 1965. I was at Angel for about two years, and so that would’ve been ’67. And then I went to National Zoo at 1972, so it’s about five years there, right around the time of 1970s, early … That I was at Johns Hopkins.

00:25:11 - 00:25:15

So what was the turning, were you happy at John Hopkins?

00:25:15 - 00:26:08

What was the turning point when you said, “Hey, I think I wanna apply to this zoo, and start this different side of my career?” Well it was, it fed into my interest in doing clinical medicine and surgery, and not doing a lot of the basic research. I thought research was interesting, and I went to Hopkins to find out if that’s exact, whether I wanted to commit myself to research, it probably didn’t have as fast or as an appropriate application to the animals. You know, a lot of it was human-directed, and I just found it, again, a challenge to go out there, and look at animals, and try to figure out what you could do with them, figure out how to anesthetize ’em, so you could actually get your hands on them, and I think it was a challenge of it that kind of geared me toward the, you know, my interest in zoo medicine.

00:26:09 - 00:26:13

As a sidebar, did you consult with Ringling Brothers?

00:26:13 - 00:26:14

Oh yes.

00:26:15 - 00:26:17

When was this?

00:26:17 - 00:26:54

Oh my gosh, let’s see, I think, I … Ringling Brothers … I started that when I was at Hopkins, Ringling Brothers would contact local veterinarians in the cities that they were performing, and have them on call. They had … Oh, I can’t think of the first veterinarian’s name. Dick Houck was the veterinarian, but the one before him was the classic one that wrote the book … Henderson. Henderson was their first veterinarian.

00:26:54 - 00:27:52

And so they called me out to the zoo when I was at Hopkins and said, “We’ve got this tiger that’s sick”, and it was Gunther Gable Williams’s tiger. And he was a character. Unbelievable man. And he said, “Look at this, this animal is passing this stool, abnormal stool.” And they presented it to me and it was meat. It looked like it had just been vomited. I couldn’t believe that it had went through the digestive track, ’cause I didn’t see it pass it or anything. So I just, you know, I guess I shouldn’t question Gunther, if anybody knows Gunther, but you know, he’s German and very sure of himself, and he assured me that that was that. And he said, “It’s gonna die.” And I said, well gee, let’s at least give it a chance”, and so they were gonna leave, and they were on the next thing.

00:27:52 - 00:28:03

So they said, I said, “Well, I’d like to do some diagnostic workup on it, and you know, check.” He said, “Okay, we leave it here with you”, they gave me a cage.

00:28:03 - 00:28:09

So we had to go pick it up and now my next challenge was how do I get a tiger into Johns Hopkins Hospital?

00:28:10 - 00:28:43

Well, we measured the cage and we went all around the hospital looking at the size of elevators, and doors’ widths and things like that, so we had to take it over through a service entrance through tunnels, and it was about a 15- or 20-minute-trip with this tiger in a cage that we were taking to Hopkins to get it over to the animal department, and so we were in the elevator, it’s a good story and we had it all covered up, you know, and we got on the elevator, and some other people got on the elevator and they said, she said, “What do you got in there?

00:28:43 - 00:29:57

You got a tiger?” I said, “What would I be doing with a tiger in Johns Hopkins?” “I’m sorry, I just asked, you know.” Of course, the tiger hadn’t roared or done anything, but she said, “I saw a cage like that just at the zoo, at the circus.” So we faked our way through the … Got it over there, and I was getting ready to work it up, Gunther was right, the next day it was dead. I mean this is a cat that was looking good, not underweight, but Gunther knew his cats. And I still don’t know what actually caused that digestive problem, they’ve had a few cats like that, but I haven’t seen it as a … It’s a syndrome written up or much work being done on it. Now maybe it’s something that just has phased out over the time, but that was my first exposure, and then a couple other times, when I was at the National Zoo, I was called out to do, to look at some cats that … The lions and tigers were falling off their pedestals during the performances. And they said, “Well, we got real problems with our, something’s happening”, and it was the whole thing, and one animal was just flat out, wouldn’t even move.

00:29:57 - 00:30:24

So I get over there and I said, “Hmm.” I watched them, you know, they had a performance in the afternoon, and the cats just set up on the pedestal, and they were trying to stay up on the pedestal, and do their job, and one of ’em turned around just to catch the net, you know, to prevent it from falling, and he damn near pulled down the net, ’cause that net is just a, you know, a visual barrier, mostly, so they had to poke him back, get him down, and so I said, “Well, what are you feeding these?

00:30:24 - 00:31:13

Something had to do it.” “Well, we got some of this horse meat.” And so what had happened, somebody had euthanized a horse with a barbiturate, and a large dose, and it gets into the meat, and so then secondarily it poisons, and they all go to sleep, and the one that was really out was the favorite animal, and they gave the liver to that animal, which is where the barbiturate concentrates, so he slept for about two or three days, so we had cats laid out for two or three days, and that also happened at Largo, the wildlife park outside of DC, they bought some cheap horse meat that had been euthanized with a barbiturate. And so by then I knew what it was as soon as I saw it.

00:31:13 - 00:31:16

So Ringling had your number on a speed dial?

00:31:16 - 00:33:16

Yeah, and we had a lion that one of the Spanish lion tamers used to put his head in the mouth at the end of the thing, had pyometra, which was an infection in the uterus, and so we did surgery on that, and that uterus was just terrible. I mean it was like sewing up a wet Graham cracker, every time you’d try to put a suture in it, the tissue just, so he had to very carefully get back to where we could find some viable tissue, that cat did well, and that guy thought we were all right. And some, later on we had, I was called up, Dick Houck, who was the veterinarian there used to get us tickets, you know, for the staff, because that was the only way, I didn’t charge or anything for them, so they would pay us by, you know, giving me 20 tickets, so I’d take the staff and few of the people, and we’d go to to the zoo and then, I mean go to the circus, until the Smithsonian General Council found out, “Well you can’t do that. You can’t, that’s a payback thing.” So then we had to buy the tickets to go, but still Dick, we get it there, and so I got, as it was closing down, we’re all getting ready to leave, I got a page, it says, “Dr. Bush come back”, you know, they knew I was there, and here were his two of his white cats laid flat out in their cages. And so I went to look at ’em, you touch ’em and they kind of get up and respond like they weren’t totally asleep. And I said, “Gee, you know, this looks like somebody giving ’em Rompun or xylazine, because they were totally flat out.” So we took some blood samples, and a couple of ’em urinated, so I collected some urine, and we sent ’em out for tox screen, first the blood, nothing came back. And so, but then I sent the urine out, and it was loaded with Xylazine. So somebody in the staff at Ringling Brothers had, it was suspected that somebody had slipped some xylazine to them, some disgruntled person, which I don’t think we ever found out, but the cats recovered after about three days.

00:33:16 - 00:33:35

That was before we had Yohimbine to reverse xylazine. If we’d had Yohimbine at that time, we could’ve reversed, we could reverse those cats within 20 minutes, and they’d have been fine. Now you mentioned at Baltimore you were the part-time veterinarian for them.

00:33:37 - 00:33:39

Did you have help when you were there?

00:33:39 - 00:33:40

Did you have technicians?

00:33:40 - 00:33:43

Were you the, you were the one man show part-time?

00:33:44 - 00:34:17

Well my future wife was my technician at Johns Hopkins, and I would bring her out when I’d need some help, you know, so she would help me out there, and John Moore, the Assistant Director was a good animal man, and so he would help with the animal handling, and that aspect of it, and I think John and I made a good team on that, but when I needed a little bit more help, I would have my wife come out and help me, my future wife.

00:34:17 - 00:34:22

Were there curators at the zoo at the time of, how did you work with the staff?

00:34:22 - 00:34:27

You were the new guy or they just accepted you as the new part-time guy?

00:34:29 - 00:35:50

Well, I’m not sure. I think I was pretty well-accepted, because at that time they had nobody, and I showed an interest, and I was there, you know, probably four or five times a week, and we were making some success. I mean we were making major changes, and things were improving, and that’s kind of the nice part of when I first started, it didn’t take much medicine, or preventive medicine, or anything in the zoo to make a big, big difference, because it was basically nothing. So once you get your preventive medicine programs going, your worming, your vaccinations, things like that, when you didn’t have that, you get a major decrease in deaths, you look at some of the nutrition, and do some of the basic stuff that’s so basic now, that, you know, wasn’t, they weren’t doing, so we got a great jump initially in the general health of the animals, so that was a very positive aspect, and there was no basically curators, there were head keepers, and I think I had a good rapport with ’em, because I was asking them all the time to help me with, you know, how this animal normally acts, stuff like this, and so I think it was pretty good, and the administration liked me, ’cause I wasn’t charging him anything, and we were making some, you know, positive improvements.

00:35:50 - 00:35:54

What kind of zoo did you find when you were there?

00:35:54 - 00:35:55

Who was the director of the …

00:35:55 - 00:35:58

Is it you said John Moore was the Assistant Director?

00:35:58 - 00:36:45

Arthur Watson. And he was a … I guess he had a TV show in Baltimore, which I never saw, that was, I guess an early Marlon Perkins-type prototype, and well-known throughout the Baltimore area, and a very interesting man, very dedicated to animals, he had one unique trait that I found interesting, but it was that any time that I was anesthetizing an animal, or that we had something to do, he would leave the zoo. I don’t know whether he just didn’t wanna be there if something went wrong or that he was, you know, protecting himself or protecting me from that, but it was just a trait that I found interesting. Was it a large collection or …

00:36:47 - 00:36:48

Unique collection?

00:36:51 - 00:37:36

It’s larger now, the Baltimore Zoo now is much larger, but we had giraffes, you know, we had the classic zoo animals, it was the menagerie type small cages, they didn’t have, at that time, there was no big, open, naturalistic exhibits. But it was, and it was set in a beautiful setting. If you’ve ever been to Baltimore in Druid Hill Park, it’s just a beautiful setting for a zoo. So it was a very highly visited zoo, and well-respected, and well-supported by the people of Baltimore. So it was a nice zoo to start at, I think. And you mentioned that veterinarians sometimes need to be or are generalists.

00:37:36 - 00:37:43

When you were at the Baltimore Zoo, you were dealing with reptiles, and birds, and all kinds of things?

00:37:43 - 00:38:21

Everything. Yeah, I had the advantage of, when I was at Angel Memorial, there was a, one of the first veterinarians, Midge Petrach track that was doing pet birds, and had written, wrote a book on that. So we had an exposure to birds and basic bird medicine when I was at Angel. And then Peter Theran was interested in primates, so he would see the pet monkeys at the time, so I had some training, you know, exposure to that at Angel, going back to what I had been exposed to at Angel.

00:38:23 - 00:38:35

And so it must have been, was it so much different from working at Angel, and working at the zoo, aside from the exotic end of it?

00:38:39 - 00:39:46

Yeah, it was, I think I enjoyed it more, ’cause one thing that I found out at Angel and I think the reason now that I could not go into private practice was that I’d see an animal brought into Angel and even though it was an SPCA hospital, and it might need some sophisticated surgery that at the time we were doing, and people just couldn’t afford it. And so most of the times they’d make it some kind of an arrangement with the people over payment or something like that, or I could go talk to him, say, “This is an interesting case, can you give him a price cut?” And when it came to the zoo work, price was never an object. I didn’t ever have to say, “Well you know, it’s gonna be too expensive to do this, or this medicine’s basically too expensive”, or, you know, stuff like that. Sometimes we didn’t have the right equipment, but there was never a basic cost about how you were gonna do your medical care. You would try to do the best you could without any concern for what it was gonna cost.

00:39:46 - 00:39:47

What was the day like at Baltimore?

00:39:47 - 00:40:50

I mean you were coming from one job, you could just come in there and make rounds, or did you check in with someone, and they told you what they wanted you to look at, or … Well, from my house where I was living out in the suburbs of Baltimore, the zoo was right on my way, so I’d just pull off on one of the exits, and go in the morning and talk to John Moore, or whoever was there and say, you know, “What do we need to look at?” Or they’d say, you know, sometimes it’d be a little early to say, “Well we think we’ve got this and gonna need to do this”, and so I’d say, “Well okay, I’ll stop back by on the afternoon on my way home, and bring whatever I needed, you know, from the Hopkins”, you know, whether there’s some surgery stuff or some medicine, ’cause I basically had no hospital or anything at the Baltimore Zoo. So that was kind of the way I worked that, and then on the weekends if I knew something was happening, or then we’d go ahead and go out there, and spend an afternoon, or good part of the morning doing whatever needed to be done.

00:40:50 - 00:40:54

Were there any major obstacles you had to overcome working at the zoo?

00:40:55 - 00:40:57

At Baltimore?

00:40:58 - 00:41:47

I wouldn’t say so other than, you know, trying to cut my teeth and gain some experience and things like that and get some confidence in the practicing medicine would reward, show you rewards in a zoo setting. No, we got the drugs we needed. I got the cooperation, if we wanted to do something, we talked about it and we did it. I mean it was just I think a very pleasant working condition. So my first zoo job, you know, I didn’t experience what many people do and what I did later on with the people problems, administration problems, you know, things like that.

00:41:47 - 00:41:50

Did you get close to any of the animals at the Baltimore Zoo?

00:41:50 - 00:41:51

Were there any key animals you worked with?

00:41:52 - 00:41:54

Any stars of the Baltimore Zoo?

00:41:57 - 00:42:48

Well, the major one was that pygmy hippo that I described. Well, the gorilla, we had a gorilla, a single male gorilla at the Baltimore Zoo, and you know, the classic story is, you know, and we were learning a little bit about reproductive physiology and we decided we needed a male and a female together if we were gonna have baby gorillas. And so they started looking around for a mate for this gorilla, and the mate, a potential mate was Hazel, a female gorilla at Phoenix who had lost its mate to coccidioidomycosis or Valley fever, which gorillas are very sensitive to.

00:42:50 - 00:43:07

So then we started, the two zoos talked together, and arranged, you know, some kind of a loan agreement, I don’t know, wasn’t any part of that discussion, and then the next part I was in a discussion, how are we gonna get the gorilla to Phoenix?

00:43:08 - 00:43:28

Well, the story I tell when I give my talks about this, and show my slides, we looked at having the Armed Forces give us a plane, or they, you know, the Reserves are gonna fly, they fly everywhere, why couldn’t we just put him in a crate, and move him across country on one of these flights?

00:43:28 - 00:43:36

And they wouldn’t do that, because it would be competing with commercial. And this is moving the gorilla from Baltimore. To Phoenix.

00:43:36 - 00:43:38

And what was the gorilla’s name, the name?

00:43:38 - 00:45:59

Baltimore Jack. And so we contacted some commercial people, and the commercial people said, “Well, if you’re gonna put a gorilla in our plane, you’re gonna rent the whole plane”, we’re not gonna be able to put it in the, you know, compartment in the back like we’ve done later with certain other animals I’ve moved. So then we looked at a private jet, these little private jets, because before that, Julie Seal and somebody else had flown a gorilla somewhere in a private jet. I forget where they were, but I saw a picture of them in a … They had a gorilla laid out in the little private jet they flew somewhere. And so I looked at the size of the private jet, and I drew it out on the floor, and pictured a 300-pound-gorilla laying on the floor, and if something happened, I didn’t have any room to get out of the way, if he woke up or something, ’cause we’d, we were gonna move him without a cage, so I said, “No, that’s just too small.” I said, “I want to at least be able to move a little bit to get away from it.” So we thought it’d kind of died, you know, that we weren’t, we didn’t wanna build a cage that was like a jail cell, put him in a U-haul truck and drive four or five days, you know, cross country, we thought that was probably gonna be too stressful for the animal. So then we get a call that Amanda Blake, which starred as Kitty in the TV series, Gunsmoke, who was a big supporter of the Phoenix Zoo, had called a person, a private person, that had a plane and his name was Hugh Hefner. And that plane was the bunny plane, the big black bunny plane, with the Playboy emblem on the tail, and they said, “That’s available for you.” And I said, “Okay.” So we put the, anesthetized the gorilla at Baltimore, but before I did that I said, “I’ve never anesthetized a gorilla before, so let’s do about a month before, let me anesthetize the gorilla, and just learn a little bit about gorilla anesthesia”, and at that time we just had Serilin, so we anesthetized it, and fortunately it went okay, so a month later we anesthetized it again, and of course the press was there, and they were delaying us getting away, and if you’ve used Serilin in a primate, you know that salivation becomes a problem.

00:45:59 - 00:48:18

They had him laying on his back, and so he was gurgling pretty bad. So we had to turn him over before we even got, and got about a pint of saliva out of him, and then he breathed okay, and put him in an ambulance, and took him to the airport with a police escort. And the driver was a bit nervous with the patient back there and was trying to make conversation, said “So well how long is he gonna be under anesthesia?” And I guess I was a bit flippant and I said, “Well, about another five, 10 minutes.” And that time the pedal went to the metal, and we passed our police escort, the county escort that was waiting for us at the county line, and got there about five minutes before our police escort did, put him on the plane, and everybody was taking pictures again, and we put him in the back of the plane, ’cause Hefner had a round bed in the back of the plane, and had windows that you could polarize with, and had a beautiful spread over the bed, and they took the spread off, but the bed, I hate to break any illusions was just a piece of foam rubber, about three inches thick, and I’ll tell you that foam rubber would never smell the same after that gorilla laid on it. For anybody that’s been up close and personal to a gorilla knows their body odor is quite pungent. So I assume Hefner got a new mattress, but then put him on the plane, everybody was standing around and the pilot comes back, and was looking at him, and we had bunnies on the plane, ’cause the plane was not supposed to go anywhere without Playboy bunnies. And the pilot was a former pilot for Air Force One, so I felt he probably, you know, Hefner went first class, and so I said, “Well, can we get going?” He said, “Oh, you wanna get going, okay.” So he chased most of the people off the plane, and we took off, and we’re climbing out of Baltimore Airport there, and all of a sudden the gorilla sets up in the bed, and is holding his ears, because of the pressure changes and you know, he was … So he was just almost awake, so we pumped a lot more Serilin in him, and got him back to … Got him to Phoenix, offloaded him, it went well, and that gorilla particularly had a habit of regurgitating, and then re-ingesting his food, which many gorillas do.

00:48:18 - 00:49:50

And so he did that at Phoenix, and they were calling me, and he said, “My gosh, he’s vomiting, he’s vomiting, and then he’s gonna eat it. So we’ve been washing it all out of the …” I said, “No, wait, wait, that’s part of his physique, you know, part of his natural way of doing it”, so we got that straightened around, and then that gorilla totally hated me at Baltimore. I mean he just almost self-destruct trying to get to me through the bars to just get any part of me, and when we got to Phoenix, I went by to look at him the next morning, and I was his buddy. He came up to me, because I was at least one person he knew, even though I was a bastard in Baltimore, he was somebody I knew, and he was trying to socialize with me to get, so I fed him something, something he would’ve never let me do in Baltimore. So that was an interesting phenomenon. But the sad part of the story was that he died a few, a year or so later with the same Valley fever, because they had the open air exhibit, and Phoenix is in the lower Sonoran life zone where coccidioidomycosis, the spores blow, and it’s called Valley Fever, that many people have that live in the area, and it’s a mild flu but syndrome, but gorillas can get it and they’re very susceptible to it, and he died to it, and I think they now have some vaccines that they’re trying, that they’re using in their gorillas in that area. But that was kind of one of the animals I had something to do with at Baltimore.

00:49:50 - 00:50:02

Now you talked about anesthetizing Baltimore Jack, was that your, was working at the Baltimore Zoo the first time that you really had vast experience using anesthesia?

00:50:02 - 00:50:38

Well, the classic statement is half vast. It was a little bit of emphasis on the pronunciation of that. Well, that was where I first used M99. It was the first time I’d done a lot of primate anesthesia, and that was the first time I used M99 on an elephant, because we were, John Moore and I, we were gonna think about moving an elephant from one place to another. They had three Asians in a small area, and they were gonna move them.

00:50:38 - 00:50:43

And so we started looking at, well what in the world are we gonna do, how are we gonna move an elephant?

00:50:43 - 00:52:55

So I was reading the brochure on M99, which I told you was kind of bogus and stuff, but that was all we had. There was a few people with a little bit of experience with M99 in elephants, Clint Gray, my mentor, was one of the first persons I believe to have anesthetized an elephant in the wild, and got ’em back up. So I was kind of looking around, and the dose for elephants was six to 10 milligrams total dose for an elephant, Asian elephant we’re talking about. So I said, “Well, Jonathan, I don’t know, let’s try to not, you know, sedate him with some M99, kinda like we did with the gorilla, you know, before we moved that, let’s try it, let’s don’t wait until we’re gonna move it and do it.” So we sat down there one night after the zoo closed, and we sat in the elephant house, and so we loaded up the capture pistol, and I put a milligram of M99 in it, and darted the one we wanted, and just kind of, you know, upset her of course, and there was a little bit of trumpeting and going around, and so we’re sitting there, just waiting, you know, that’s hardest thing to do in anesthetizing an animal is waiting to see what happens. And so we were sitting there and waiting, and we got on and on, and we’re just looking at it and I said, “I don’t think it’s gonna have any effect, one milligram.” So we’re going, and idle conversation, just, I said, “Well John, what happens if that elephant goes down in there, and we have to go in and give the reversal?” At the time the reversal was 285, it wasn’t M 50-50 and he said, “I’ll walk in there and give it, you know.” I said, “Okay, well that’s fine John.” So we’re sitting there watching, and just about ready to leave, I mean it’s over an hour and nothing happened, and all of a sudden I’m looking directly at the animal. The trunk didn’t relax, nothing but it hit the ground, just dropped like it had been headshot. I’ve seen an elephant’s headshot in Kruger, and it dropped exactly like that, just as if I’d have blinked it, I missed him. And of course the other elephants went crazy.

00:52:55 - 00:53:48

They’re trumpeting, they’re running around the place. I hand drawn the syringe, I say, “Here, go in and give the reversal.” Of course he didn’t do it. We had to dart the reversal, and the elephant got up in about 15 minutes, and there was celebration by the other elephants, and everything went around, but that just showed me how if you waited long enough, how sensitive that they were. And I think it was the next meeting, Murray Fowler had a picture of his first elephant, or one of his first elephants, where he had a keeper holding it after he had given the drug, and I just sat there terrified, watching ’cause I know how fast they dropped, and it almost fell on this keeper, the keeper was able to get out of the way, but he had the keeper standing there with the ankus, you know, in the ear to keep it steady, and so my rule of thumb with elephants, you give the drug, you get out of the way.

00:53:48 - 00:53:51

Now did you have a lot of people that you could lean on then?

00:53:51 - 00:53:55

You mentioned Clint Gray for advice on these anesthesias?

00:53:55 - 00:54:38

Not much, we kind of just, we were flying by what we were doing, and we lost some animals and I’m … What I told my interns and residents and associates that I’ve had, I said, “You know, I made a lot of mistakes, and it’s my job to make sure you don’t make the mistakes I made, and I hope I never made too many mistakes at the same time”, but when we started out, there were some animals that I lost with anesthesia, and now I know why, you know, but that’s a little bit of tincture time, and hopefully learning something from your mistakes.

00:54:38 - 00:54:49

Were at the time when you were in Baltimore, were were vets, how many vets were in the zoos that were part-time as you were or full-time?

00:54:50 - 00:57:03

Well now this is a story that I’m not sure that I can verify, but this is kind of the story that as I remember it, ’cause when I got to National Zoo, Clint Gray and I sat around one morning drinking coffee and just talking, trying to figure out how many zoo veterinarians there were full-time in the US working at zoos, and we counted, you know, listing off the, you know, Les Fisher, and Chuck Sedgwick, and you know, some of them, the classic ones that were, I think Amal was, Dowland Seck was there, but I think we came up with less than 10 in the United States. Now there may have been more, but it was hard to find that many full-time. There was, of course the majority of the veterinary work was being done by part-time or contract at that time, but that gives you the idea, of kind of the scope of the … Especially when I was at Angel, they had the AVMA convention, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and since we were lowly interns, the AVMA gave us free admission there, ’cause it was just down the block from the hospital. And I was looking around and that was after I did the impala at the Franklin Park Zoo, and they way down there at the bottom they said, “American Association of Zoo Veterinarians meeting in this certain room.” I said, “I didn’t know we had …” You know, so I said, so I went down there, and there they were sitting there, about six of us, Marty Dennis, and I think Les Fisher, and I, somewhere I’ve got who was there, but that was about it, and then we started meeting at Michigan State with a few, and now recently, our most recent meeting in Oakland, four or 500 in attendance. So the profession’s grown. You had mentioned in the beginning, medical committees or other leaning on physicians and … Not leaning on them.

00:57:03 - 00:58:05

I would say bringing them in as collaborators, because you have to direct them. You know, if somebody comes in, and thinks they’re gonna do all this stuff, and do all these things and do, I said, “We can’t do that on this animal. You know, it isn’t gonna work. Trust me that this won’t work.” Like I’ve had some dentist come in and try to take a bear’s tooth out with their instruments, and so I let them, you know, try, and then I say, “Now here’s a hammer, a mallet and a chisel.” And I said, “What you do is you go up, and have to split the periosteum, and go up and get above the root, and take it out.” So you know, you use them for their expertise, but you can get into trouble sometimes by turning over your patient to them, which I don’t do. I had in the past, but I don’t do anymore. What kind of unique cases did your collaboration with medical doctors in Baltimore, can you give me one that … Okay. Now this is …

00:58:06 - 00:59:50

We had … At the Baltimore Zoo, there was this black leopard that was having seizures, and so they got it into a crate, and brought it down into the animal holding area, so I’m sitting down there, and here is a crate with an opening about this big, with a leopard that’s snarling, you know, at you, and there’s no way to get a dart gun or anything in there. And so finally I remembered back, well, your dissociative is, anesthetics are effective orally. So I loaded up a syringe with Serilin, and kind of looked in there, and he came up and squirted right in his mouth, and went right down, and so I was dragging him out and looking at him, and so I couldn’t find much, and I was gonna, I figured, well, we better do a spinal tap to see if I can find anything in the spinal fluid to help us with the diagnostic of why the animal’s having seizures. And I said, well, they have a neurology department just right up in the ninth floor of the building I was in. I said, I called up there, and I said, well, I said, “You know, this is Dr. Bush. I’m a veterinary down there in comparative medicine, and I’ve got a black panther down here that I need some help” or not, I didn’t, I said, “This is Dr. Bush, I’m downstairs. I’ve got a black panther that I need some help with a spinal tap on, can somebody come down?” So the Head of the department came down thinking that I had a militant Afro-American down there, and he was gonna be working on that, so when he was working on the black leopard, and he continues to tell the story, we were, I just had dinner with him about two weeks ago, and we laughed at that story, which was over 30-years-old.

00:59:51 - 01:00:30

Then I have another great story of … When I was at the National Zoo, we had this orangutan that was born, and orangutans, you know, can get septic from umbilical infections, and this one had a swollen elbow joint, and we had some pus, and you know, it wasn’t nursing and it got an ulcer in its mouth, and so I tapped the elbow joint, got out tremendous amounts of pus, and put a drain in, and that wasn’t working, and this was right about Christmas time.

01:00:30 - 01:00:56

And then it was doing all right and then crashed again with the hip joint, filled up with pus and I tapped it, and got out and I said, “Okay, I need some help.” So I called the Children’s Hospital over in Washington DC, and talked, tried to get somebody in human pediatric orthopedics, and I said, “Gee”, you know, explained who I was and stuff, and they put somebody on the phone, they said, “Okay, where are you?

01:00:56 - 01:02:00

And okay, I’ll be over there in 15 minutes.” So he came over and it was the Head of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, and he looked at it, and he said, “Well, what we gotta do is just open up the joints, and let ’em drain.” So he just sliced them open, both the hip, and treated ’em open wounds, did well, did well. The interesting part of the story, this was Doug McKay, and he came over, and saw my orangutan right around Christmas, the day before, or the day after, and I’d been trying to have him see my daughter for a thumb lesion for over eight weeks, and he hadn’t been able to work in the schedule to take care of my daughter’s trigger thumb. So I didn’t let him forget that, and so about three weeks later he saw my daughter, and did the surgery and corrected that, but that was just how some of the physicians were so excited about coming over and helping you with that because it was such a change. And I think some of the physicians, although they may not admit it, were frustrated veterinarians. Now you mentioned there weren’t a lot of veterinarians at the time.

01:02:00 - 01:02:16

Were some of the procedures you were doing in Baltimore, were they cutting edge in any way, because maybe they were first time, and were you able then to share them with the other veterinarians, or were they sharing things with you that were then helping you?

01:02:20 - 01:03:57

I think the communication between veterinarians in the beginning was mainly through personal contacts. We had phone numbers of the other six or seven people that, you know, that we would talk to. We didn’t do a lot of publishing, although I published my first couple of papers when I was at Baltimore. I don’t think I did anything that was probably later on, I think some of the stuff that I was doing was maybe more publishable. I was mainly doing, just cleaning up, getting a preventive medicine program, doing fire engine type medicine, maybe a little bit of geriatric medicine, you know, nothing on what I would later coin as applied clinical research, where you would be doing a study, and the results that you got, you would be using the next day before you published it six weeks from now or several months from now, when you got a large enough end number to make it publishable. And some of the, I think there was one of the animal food guys from one of the zoo, one of the companies that was providing zoo food would kind of go around, and he was the unofficial kind of news guy. “Oh yeah, well so and so back there, did this on a lion or something like that.” So he was a source of information. And then Clint Gray was the Secretary of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, and put a newsletter.

01:03:57 - 01:04:34

So that was kind of it. We kind of had a newsletter and he, through the Smithsonian, was able to get the postage, and we had a kind of a newsletter long before we had a journal. And that was kind of just a informal, “Well gosh, I did this once and it worked” type of thing. Which was important at the time, because that’s all the information we had. And then later that grew into the journal, which we called the giraffe journal, because it had a giraffe on the front of it, and it’s been published up to now. It’s a, well, it’s a recognized scientific journal.

01:04:36 - 01:04:42

Was it difficult juggling your work at Johns Hopkins and the zoo when you were there?

01:04:42 - 01:05:02

No. Hopkins was all for it because it was comparative medicine, and the stuff that I was doing was, I had never had any problems even leaving there, ’cause I didn’t have, sometimes I’d have to leave in the middle of the day or something if there was a, and the zoo was only about 15 minutes from the hospital. So it was not a problem.

01:05:03 - 01:05:08

What was the favorite part of your job, when you were at Baltimore?

01:05:08 - 01:06:05

I think just being hands-on and making a difference, actually, probably that was at Baltimore … For the amount of effort and things you did, I got the biggest reward out of improving the animal collection. When I got to national, they had some of the preventative medicines, those programs already in place. Nutrition was a little bit better, and so the amount of effort that you put in to get the spike in improvement was a lot more. So I don’t know if that explains it, or you understand what I’m trying to say there, but for the amount of effort that you had put in at the very beginning when you started at ground zero, the rewards were much better. Well let’s talk about the National Zoo. You were, you said, in 1972, I think, Clint Gray calls you up and says “You want a job?” That’s basically it.

01:06:06 - 01:06:14

What was the job, and was it at the National Zoo, or did he have a office of Animal Health and Washington?

01:06:14 - 01:06:18

I mean was it the zoo job that he was offering you?

01:06:18 - 01:06:44

He was offering me as Assistant Veterinarian at the National Zoo. This was long before Front Royal was in existence, and I was gonna be his assistant, and that was basically it. I started doing rounds, and started treating animals, and started instituting some preventative medicine programs, and …

01:06:45 - 01:06:51

What kind of staff did you find when you went for this first job?

01:06:51 - 01:07:35

You’re now a federal employee. Correct. Well, I was put on temporary, I was hired during a freeze, so I was a term appointment for several years before I actually got full-time. But it was a federal position. So what did you find, I mean you went from a part-time veterinarian at a zoo to now full-time, and they probably had technicians, and other things there. Yeah, we were, the staff was quite a bit bigger. Of course I had Clint as the Head Veterinarian, and then we had a clinical path lab that was fairly well-staffed at the time, very well-staffed compared to other and equipped. We had two technicians in there, and they did bacteriology.

01:07:35 - 01:08:17

We had a histopath technician, and we had a pathologist, Bob Sauer. And then there was one keeper in the hospital, and then one keeper “technician”, Tom Snyder was his name. And so it was quite a bit different. I had, you know, some help, but I still didn’t have the expertise of a vet tech. And that’s again where my wife, Lana May, who worked with me at Hopkins then took a job at Baltimore Zoo as their thing, and as their technician, and then moved over and became my technician at National.

01:08:18 - 01:08:24

What kind of zoo did you find when you came to the National Zoo, as compared to Baltimore?

01:08:25 - 01:09:08

Oh, well the collection was quite a bit bigger. I thought the exhibits were a little bit more modern. The keeper staff I believe was a little bit better, but it still evolved. The keeper staff at National Zoo evolved, as did the curatorial staff during my tenure there. It was, I guess, that’s a difficult question. I’m trying to figure out how to answer that in a way that makes sense. I mean I just didn’t really do a comparison. I mean I just kind of jumped right into it.

01:09:08 - 01:10:07

It was just, it was there, and we took off with what we did, I think the most unique part of the place, I had a hospital there at least, and it was not the best hospital in the world, but the first thing as you drove into the hospital was the pathology department with the loading dock, where we did the pathology, so that kind of dictated what had been happening, the animals came to the hospital, most of ’em came to be autopsied, and we tried to change that. And the story was, “Well, the last person that was seen with the animal before it died, was a veterinarian.” So we wanted to try to change that image, which was kind of pervasive at the time, and I think we did a little bit. My classic story is I always wanted to put the pathologist out of business, and have them just see geriatric cases. But we haven’t achieved that yet. Not 100%.

01:10:08 - 01:10:12

So Clint Gray, so it’s you and Clint, you’re the two vets?

01:10:12 - 01:10:26

Well we had a veterinary pathologist, Bob Sauer. But you’re the two people doing day-to-day. Yeah, Clint was mainly administration. I was doing 95% of the clinical work. Clint kind of moved over to administration, and …

01:10:26 - 01:10:28

So you were on call 24-7?

01:10:28 - 01:10:31

Oh yeah. I was working seven days a week.

01:10:32 - 01:10:34

Who was Director of the zoo department?

01:10:34 - 01:12:43

Ted Reed. Ted Reed was a veterinarian, and Ted was an interesting person. He kept saying veterinary medicine has passed him by, but as he became a Director, but you talked to Ted, and Ted would know what was going on, and Ted treated a few cases when none of us were, you know, available at the time, and so Ted was a veterinarian. I don’t … We agreed on most stuff, we had a few disagreements, but in my job description originally I had the power over the Director to make a decision on an animal’s health, which I found very unique, and that didn’t last too long down through the administration. I never used it ’cause I never had to, because Ted and I always kind of met eye to eye, or if we were some things we could talk it out. The one time that he suggested something, we got the giant pandas in, right after I got there, and of course all the hoopla of that, and I guess it was a few weeks after that, the air conditioning went down, and the giant panda exhibit in the middle of August in DC, and the temperature was going up, and the pandas were vomiting, and everything else, and panting heavily. So I suggested, “Well let’s get the air, call up the White House and get Air Force One’s refrigeration unit and plug it in.” So we had that there in about 30 minutes, which was pretty good, so we were pumping it in there and I didn’t see anything, and I reached my hand up there and was blowing hot air, because it wasn’t working, so they hadn’t tested that, so we got that out of there and I said, “Well, let’s just put some ice cube, big blocks of ice.” So we just moved, took us about I guess an hour to get blocks of ice, and they just spread out over the ice, and it passed, and then Ted said, “Well, let’s give ’em some chloromycetin on some bread, you know, and to do it.” And I said, “Ted, don’t think it’d be a good idea.

01:12:43 - 01:13:33

You know, their gut is so specialized for handling bamboo and they probably have a flora in there that is attuned to bamboo. And if we kill that flora with chloromycetin, I think we’re gonna have a heck of a lot more problems.” Ted, and the lights came in and he said, somebody asked something, he said, “Dr. Bush is handling the rest of this.” So that was kind of the agreement, and that was about the only time that Ted and I had a discussion, and it was very positive, explained to him what I was concerned about, and had a meeting in the minds, and he became confident that I may know a little bit about what I was doing. Just because you bring up the subject, we’ll talk about it now. You were veterinarian to the pandas, and this was a very big, obviously a big deal at the National Zoo and nationally.

01:13:33 - 01:13:46

What kind of pressures did you feel, or did you feel that you were under, and how was the relationship with the people who were bringing the panda?

01:13:46 - 01:13:50

Or, what kind of freedom did you have to be the doctor?

01:13:52 - 01:17:08

Okay, I guess I’m gonna have to start a monologue on that one. Well, I was there about four or five months, and it was announced that Nixon was bringing over the giant pandas, and I went to a meeting in Las Vegas, and Chuck Sedgwick was giving something and as in passing, we had a bunch of band names, and there he said, you know, and I just knew him by passing, and we had introduced ourselves and he said, “Mitch”, he said, “I was so glad when you got the giant pandas and we didn’t get ’em at San Diego.” He said, “I lit a bunch of candles for thankful.” And I said, “Chuck, I hope you burned the hell outta your fingers.” But no, they came there, and there’s a big hooped law and at that time, the relationships with China were really touchy, so there was bulletproof glass all around the exhibit, and they had to have police outside when the pandas were outside, and the classic thing on the glass was, it was cold inside, and the photographers put the big light up on it and it shattered the whole thing. It didn’t break, but, you know, did the honeycomb thing on a I don’t know how many $1000 piece of glass, but it was fairly easy, we got there, and then all of a sudden, I guess about a week later, they passed a load of ascarids that would’ve filled a quart bottle, but that’s fairly normal in pandas, which I’ve found out over the years of the aascarids and controlling them, and so we first thought that was gonna be a problem, but we just had routine worming, and that was not a problem, and then we had basically feeding them, we had to find a good source of bamboo, and we had to check it for lead poisoning, or because it was too close to the a highway, at that time leaded gas would’ve accumulated on some of the plants, so we had to do some of that type of things, and generally, pandas were extremely healthy. I’ve had two major problems with the pandas at National Zoo. One I gave had a wound, and I gave it an antibiotic, that the animal was very sensitive to, and it had a hemolytic anemia to it, and his kidney shut down, that was a female. And so I was, we anesthetized her to, you know, get some diagnostic, get some blood samples and stuff, and so I anesthetized the female giant panda, and talking about anesthetizing a giant panda, when you have the only one out of, maybe there was two or three others outta China with kind of a gut wrenching situation, people would compare it to, “Well, that’s like anesthetizing the President.” And I’d say, “No, no. Best President is ever liked by 70% of the people, 30% of the people are gonna be congratulating you if you lose the President. But about 100% of the people love the panda.

01:17:08 - 01:20:28

So don’t tell me it’s comparing to anesthetizing the …” And so I would just almost get cataleptic about doing it, and finally I said, “It’s gotta be done.” I said, “Who else do you want anesthetizing it with you?” And I said, “You’ve gotta do it.” So went ahead and did it, and her hematocrit was eight, which would mean, she was just almost to the point of dying for the lack of blood was my diagnosis. And her kidney function was down the hill, and her BUN was high, and so here I was with one panda under anesthesia, they had eight hematocrit, and so I said, “My God, we need a blood transfusion.” So the only other panda was right next door, so it wasn’t dieted, so I anesthetized it, I had two giant panda down at the same time, so we collected two units of blood from the male, gave it to the female, and then I went again looking for help on the kidney failure part of it, so there was a urology conference in Washington DC right down the block, so I called up again the Children’s Hospital and said, you know, and they said, “Well, they’re all at the conference.” So I went over there and got about three or four urologists, and started consulting with them, and we set up a plan, we were gonna set up to do peritoneal dialysis and hemo, no, hemodialysis on the pandas, so we anesthetized her again, and at that time we said, “Well, let’s get a look at the kidney. I wanted to get a biopsy of the kidney”, and so we’d done over the years quite a bit of work with laparoscopy, so Dave Wilt and I anesthetized the panda, and took a kidney biopsy, which, under direct visual observation laparoscopically, and then Dick Montale ran a frozen section, so we had the diagnosis before we woke the panda up, and it was the kidney was recovering. So that was by nice having the facilities, and having everything lined up, that we didn’t do any major problems. And then another time, the male panda, one morning they called me up, they said, “You better get down here, doctor, there’s something wrong.” And there was blood everywhere inside the male panda’s thing, looked like a kosher kill almost I could envision. And so my associate was Lindsey Phillips at the time, and he was on his way to Front Royal, and I said, “Get back here.” And we anesthetized it that night, and we’re ready for any catastrophic things, and did, again, brought in some specialists with their endoscopes, and looked down, looked there, and found one tiny ulcer in the lower intestine that must have ruptured to an artery, and there was nothing we had to do ’cause it had all closed up. But the nice thing about giant pandas is that with their gut is so short that you can run, go one way and see almost 80% of it, you know, when you do both directions. So we scoped him front and back, and got some information that way by the flexible gastroscope, so …

01:20:28 - 01:20:32

So while you’re doing this, you had a lot of people looking over your shoulder?

01:20:32 - 01:20:47

Yeah, a certain amount, yeah, we had some, I got my picture on the front of the LA Times doing the biopsy of the female’s kidney. So that was, I made the LA Times’ front page, so …

01:20:47 - 01:20:50

Did the Chinese have representatives always there?

01:20:50 - 01:21:29

No, they didn’t. The classic thing is when the Chinese brought it over, and they were bringing it over, I was talking to ’em about what diseases, what, you know, what things they, and of course the contingencies that come over were all just diplomats that we’re getting their junket thing, so they could come over. So there was nobody there. Well, what’s the main problem, you know, with the pandas, the main problem is disease. Okay. And that was the type of answers that I was getting. So … No, but now I think the Chinese have changed in some of their …

01:21:29 - 01:22:49

Because I think, I believe they lost a giant panda recently in Japan under anesthesia, and they’ve changed the situation now that a Chinese veterinarian has to be there if possible, during an anesthesia. I haven’t had to work under that situation. I worked with, I anesthetized the pandas at Chiang Mai in Thailand a couple times and we didn’t, we had a veterinarian sent over who was very junior, and he was discussing with me, you know, his experience of doing it, and after sharing my experience with it, he was pretty comfortable that I could take charge of the anesthesia, or I didn’t take charge, I supervised the Thais doing that, because my goal over there was to train people, and give them confidence to anesthetize them, and not be in there and telling ’em everything. I was there to make sure they didn’t make mistakes. Now with the giant pandas, just a couple other quickie questions here. Obviously, the idea I think at one level was to try to breed them.

01:22:50 - 01:22:54

Were you involved in those kind of discussions on what to do?

01:22:54 - 01:22:55

Were there any frustrations with that?

01:22:55 - 01:24:36

Ugh … Oh yes, the breeding of the giant pandas, it was like amateur night in the backseat of a drive-in movie. There was just no natural breeding, and then that, of course, they, we wanted to do the natural breeding for a couple of years, and that didn’t work. And then you heard the story when they sent, we sent Chia Chia, they sent Chia Chia over, the male giant panda from England to breed with Ling Ling. So my colleague, John Knight, flew over the male giant panda, and so we had two males and a female, and we were gonna run ’em together, you know, but they were gonna do the introductions, and the female came in early, she came into estrous and we introduced it to our male, and of course nothing happens with the English male was there, so we had to introduce them. So they was very nice, you know, introduction, sniffing, talking each other and kind of the male made a half-hearted mount, and female just turned, and did a little bark like they do. And he hit her like a buzz saw, and started fighting, and they were screaming, and he was biting, and chunks and hair was flying out, and so I ran down to the front and got a garden, the big high pressure hose and trying to separate ’em. And so finally I was squirting the male, and the female was realizing that I was protecting her, so she sat right down underneath me at the mote, and the male would come and start …

01:24:36 - 01:25:31

And I’d be hitting him in the mouth with the fire hose and stuff like this. And then she’d look up periodically, make sure I was still there. And finally, we got the male separated, he chewed her up something terrible. But fortunately she pulled through, and then we went to the AI and artificially inseminating, so we, and then tried electroejaculation, we electroejaculated the male on numerous occasions, and it was fairly difficult to get a good quality sperm out of our particular male, and then we did some insemination attempts, and then they failed. So that was kind of a … Now at this same time, approximately, the Chipotle Park Zoo was breeding giant pandas. It was before this.

01:25:31 - 01:25:35

He was, I went down and saw the guy, he was, did you ever meet him?

01:25:35 - 01:26:29

He was an old circus guy that was made Director, I don’t remember his name, but he was a character. I mean he had them there, and as soon as he got the … This is his story now, as soon as he got the giant pandas, he just told the Chinese to take their rice sticks, and go home, you know, they had all the stuff they were supposed to do, and he mixed everything together in a blender. So it was just eggs and, you know, everything else, and he put ’em together continually, which the giant, which the Chinese told us “Always keep ’em separate.” And I think that was the key that they were together, so it wasn’t such a unique thing or a curiosity. He threw ’em together, and had a baby panda born, and the Chinese couldn’t believe it. They flew somebody down there and … To see if there was really a baby. And then I went down a couple times on …

01:26:31 - 01:28:08

The giant pandas in Mexico, one time I flew down there to help them with a baby that had just been born. They had one born, and by the time I got there, it died. And so I had to do the autopsy on the giant panda cub. Next time they flew me down to do a look at the male who was sick, and so I took Lindsey Phillips with me, and that time there was another Director, Maria Elena, I think was her name, fiery little, short, cute Mexican gal, that was, you know, a little live wire, and she came out and said, “Well now you know, I want you to anesthetize the panda, I want you to use isoflurane, I want you to do this and this …” and so I just turned around and said, “Are you telling me how to anesthetize the panda?” “Yes”, I said, “No, that’s not gonna work.” I said, “You’ve invited me down to anesthetize your panda. I’m gonna do it the way I anesthetized pandas, and if you don’t want me to do that, I can get right back on the plane.” So we anesthetized the pandas, and pandas had generalized lymphadenopathy, the male did, which is enlarged lymph nodes everywhere. And one of my jobs at Hopkins is I was treating lymphoma in dogs and cats. We had a big thing where we were having people that had dogs with lymphoma we were treating with chemotherapy and getting some survivals, and you know, some dogs living a couple years on treatment. So I was fairly used to the doing that.

01:28:08 - 01:29:32

And I said, “I think we got a problem here.” And we had hundreds of people around, you know, they all had their white coats, and they were, you know … And so I did a biopsy of a lymph node, we gotta take a lymph node out. So I took a biopsy and I set it down, and everybody would taking tissue, we weren’t getting any, and I had Dick Montale waiting for tissue back in at Washington. So finally I gave it to Lynn Jean and I said, “Don’t let anybody take this piece of tissue.” Then I said, “Okay, now we gotta get a bone marrow.” So I did a bone marrow on the iliac crest, and made some slides, hand the slides down, slides were disappearing right and left. Every one was taken. So finally we had, we cornered enough of our stuff, and then we got a blood sample, and I held it so that nobody could mug me and take it away from me. And we get back, and we rode, we’re riding back to the airport, ’cause we didn’t, you know, we flew in and flew out the same day, we’re riding back in a panel band that didn’t have any seats in it. So we’re sitting down the floor, and I was talking to him, I said, “I’m 99% sure that this animal has lymphoma.” I said, “Now the thing to do with this is” I said, “Start out very cautiously by just giving it steroids”, and I said, “You’ll get some remission, the lymph nodes will go down, the animal will feel better, and then we can start on, you know, giving a slow buildup on some of the chemotherapy stuff.

01:29:32 - 01:30:37

And then I think we can probably keep the animal alive for a while, but you know, we’re not gonna probably cure it, but you know, we can keep the animal comfortable.” So I felt pretty good, you know, telling him that, and then Dick was waiting for us, we got back the next morning, comes back, he said, “Okay, lymphoma”, I sent him a message, you know, “Our diagnosis is confirmed, we’ve got lymphoma, you know, this is the way to do it.” I guess it was about a week later, we got, somebody found a paper from Mexico. “Mexican scientists diagnosed cancer in giant pandas after Smithsonian cannot.” And they gave that panda about six or seven combinations of drugs all at once, and killed it within a week. So then they called me back, I think later they had a sick giant panda, wanted me to come back again, I said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “You guys are not following any of my advice, you haven’t done it. So if I go down there, I’m gonna tell you to do this, which you probably won’t do.” So that ended my consultation with giant pandas of Mexico.

01:30:37 - 01:30:41

What role did Jean Schoch play?

01:30:41 - 01:30:42

Jean who?

01:30:42 - 01:30:44


01:30:46 - 01:30:50

Who is — was that the Director at the Mexico Zoo?

01:30:50 - 01:30:52

No, that was Maria Elena.

01:30:55 - 01:30:59

Was that the gentleman we were talking about?

01:30:59 - 01:31:55

Short-statured. was that — I don’t know. He was — I just went down for information, ’cause I traveled around to talk to John, people that had giant pandas, and I wanted to see what Mexico’s doing, and I also went to Regents Park and met with John Knight. They had a female giant panda that was dying of a chronic digestive thing. And so I, John and I consulted a lot over pandas, and he’s the one that brought the male panda to National for that breeding attempt. Talking about the National Zoo, again, more of your experiences there without giant pandas, you indicated that the National Zoo had certainly a depth within the medical area.

01:31:56 - 01:31:59

Why was a pathologist hired?

01:31:59 - 01:32:02

Was it a pathologist there before you got there?

01:32:02 - 01:33:14

Yes — one of the few. in the United States. Lynn Griner at San Diego was one of the few, there was a, I think Snyder at … Pennsylvania … And Philadelphia, I think his name was Snyder, was doing some pathology. I’m not sure of his name, but I believe he was a non-medical trained pathologist. But he published some really good stuff. And I’m not saying that in a derogatory thing, he did do some pathology, and then originally the pathology at the National Zoo was done by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which is right there in DC just 10 miles or so from the zoo, and then the zoo hired Bob Sauer and then we also had, Bernie Zuch, who was a kind of a consulting pathologist that was at George Washington, and they worked and found, did some really nice work on the lead poisoning that we had initially at the zoo, and the vitamin E and selenium deficiencies that we dealt with in both hoofstock and birds.

01:33:15 - 01:33:20

So there was some nice work being done with the pathology department there.

01:33:20 - 01:33:33

Now were you, when you were in your position working with Clint Gray, did you consult with other zoos also?

01:33:34 - 01:33:50

I mean, as I said earlier, I think I’m a generalist, and there’s a lot of information out there that people have, and I wanted to try to get as much of it as I could. But I mean, were they calling you, and saying — oh absolutely.

01:33:50 - 01:33:56

or “Can you look at this?” I mean, did you have, were you able to travel to other places?

01:33:56 - 01:35:20

Or did the Smithsonian say it’s okay to do it or … Yeah, we did a lot of traveling, Dave Wilt and I, when, I met Dave Wilt, ’cause I was interested in laparoscopy. Tell us who Dave Wilt is, just to — Tell us who Dave Wilt is, just to put in perspective. Well, Dave Wilt is a PhD reproductive physiologist that studied at Michigan State, and had done a lot of work with pigs, and had developed laparoscopic techniques for examining internal organs, mainly the reproductive organs. And I was interested in laparoscopy, because we had a major problem with avian tuberculosis at the National Zoo when I got there. And diagnostic tests were very limited. But one of the things that, I’m digressing a little, but one of the things for the diagnostic test was to look at the liver and spleen of birds to look for granulomas or white spots, and rather than opening them up all the way, I thought maybe a laparoscope, we take a quick peek in there, get a look and start doing a test and slaughter basically on some of the birds to get rid of the problem. So I wanted to try to find out, you know, more about laparoscopy.

01:35:20 - 01:37:56

So I met Dave Wilt when I went up to Steve Seger’s place who was doing some, a veterinarian doing work in reproductive physiology, and Dave Wilt worked for him, and Dave and I just kind of hit it off. We started doing laparoscopy together, and then basically we looked at, started talking, and we had shared a lot of the same interest in, you know, assisted reproduction, and things like this. And we were starting to look at cheetahs, you know, to see, because cheetahs were not doing well breeding, and so by looking at both the sperm, and from electroejacutaion, we found very poor sperm, which is now well-known, and laparoscopy, we looked at the, we could look at the ovaries and classify how the ovaries looked. So it kind of just kept building up on that, and we did more and more kind of collaboration. We went around to various zoos, and did studies, and then we went to Africa, because we’d went around zoos, oh, probably for three or four years looking at cheetahs that, you know, trying to get a baseline of what the reproductive status of the captive cheetah population was at the time. And we traveled, I don’t know, I’d have to go back my logs, but many zoos in the US, maybe 10, 12, looking at cheetahs, both laparoscopically and by electroejaculation, and Smithsonian supported that, you know, that we could go and do the traveling. But then it kind of came up, we got some money available for, out of our friends for our National Zoo started making grants, and so I requested a grant and got it that we could go over to Africa, and look at some cheetahs there, ’cause then a previous trip I’d went to the Vilt, and met the veterinarian there, and talked to him about some collaboration. And so we went over to the Vilt, and when we got in there, I think one of the first days we had eight cheetahs under anesthesia at the same time collecting data from them, and that was about the number of cheetahs that we had in our whole six or seven months of traveling around the zoos, and at the zoos, they’d always short of course given us the problem breeders of the ones that had never bred, because they didn’t want us messing with the ones that were trying to breed.

01:37:56 - 01:39:47

So we got access to breeder cheetahs and characterized that, and of course, as a sidelight, we collected some information for the geneticist, Steve O’Brien, who found the monomorphic populations that cheetahs were basically inbred, then that started us off on another direction. But then we also did some traveling, David and I, we started looking at gorillas laparoscopically to try to evaluate female gorillas, and we flew various places and laparoscopied gorillas around the country, to evaluate the status of gorillas, and tried and collector sperm. And zoos were open to this collaboration, or — we didn’t try to force or we presented us as a tool to try to help understand it, and added to the database, and shared all the information right back. And when we’d go to a zoo like that, we would talk to ’em if, you know, “Do you have any other questions or any other expertise that we may be able to help?” So sometimes we’d be there for a, you know, a reproductive exam and then find another case that we’d talk to the veterinarians, and worked with them on that, or sometimes we wouldn’t know, or be able to do anything more, but many times we were able to kind of be a traveling clinic in the early years helping other colleagues. So when you were under Clint in these beginning times, you were on call all the time. When did you start getting some additional assistance, and if you did, had you then moved up, or what was the … Clint Gray was the Head of Veterinary Services for a while, and then he wasn’t there. Yeah.

01:39:47 - 01:39:50

How did that progression start for you at National?

01:39:50 - 01:40:22

Well, Clint was getting close to retirement age, and then there was some rearrangement, I guess, we should say, in the administrative structure of the National Zoo, where some people up above weren’t happy with, I feel, or Ted Reed was doing or wanted new direction in the zoo. And so they brought in an Assistant Director, and his name escapes me right now.

01:40:25 - 01:40:26


01:40:26 - 01:40:27

Was that Robinson?

01:40:27 - 01:42:02

this was way before Robinson. He became Director at, he left National after a year, so he became Director somewhere around this area. Ugh, I guess that’s galloping Alzheimer’s is catching up, but he came around and I was very impressed with him, because first he came around, and set up his office, and everybody rushed to him, curators, everybody rushed to him. And I just sat back, I just kind of sat back, and just, I’m not gonna play that game, you know, I’d had a good relationship with Ted, we’d worked it out, and I didn’t have any burning problems that I needed to, and so I guess it was several weeks later, he called me and he said, “I wanna talk to you Nick.” He said, you know, you haven’t come and talked to me. And I said, “Well, that’s fine.” And so he asked me about five or six questions and man, he had it pegged where the problems were after that. And at that time they decided that Clint would probably be better off it in a more administrative thing, and for teaching in vet school. So they gave, freed him up, and gave him the flexibility to travel to vet schools, and share his information, and things like that. And then he did that, I don’t know the length of time, and then finally retired and then I became the Head of the department when Clint moved up to being the, you know, in this administration position, and I fought that, because I didn’t think, I didn’t wanna become the Head of the department.

01:42:02 - 01:43:33

I knew that had administrative loads, and I said no. I said, I didn’t particularly want that, and about that time another shakeup occurred, because initially, he put the pathologist under Clint Gray, and Bob Sauer didn’t want any of that. So Bob Sauer turned in his resignation right away. And so we were without a pathologist for a while until I brought Dick Montale from Hopkins, who was a former colleague and roommate of mine to be a pathologist, but then right about that time, Clint was making a lot of changes and trying to, you know, Dick came, and he made a lot of changes for Dick, and was gonna be over Dick, and I sat down with this Assistant Director, I can’t remember his name, and I can picture him, and I said, “Look”, I said, “Leave Clint here. I’ve got a beautiful working relationship with him, but get Montale out from under Dick. He’s driving Dick crazy.” And I said, “I don’t wanna lose him, I don’t wanna lose him.” I said, “You know, just please do that.” And so I thought I’d talked him into it, and then the announcement came out that I was made Head of the department, you know, and I didn’t want it. And so Clint unfortunately thought that I had undermined him and I don’t think he ever forgave me of that. We remained talking, but that’s one regret I have that Clint thought I tried to undermine him to get the Head of the department, which I didn’t want.

01:43:33 - 01:43:36

What year did you become Head of the department?

01:43:36 - 01:43:39

It’s on there, I don’t remember it — 1975?

01:43:39 - 01:43:41


01:43:42 - 01:44:33

That’s probably about right, ’75, ’76. Mm-hmm, okay. Dick took over the clinical path, which made sense to me, you know, ’cause it was, he was a board certified pathologist. He had the pathology, he took over the clinical path. So then that turned into a very productive collaboration that went on for over 30 years, and I think we did fair amount of work. Now you’ve held some different titles at National Zoo, but I’m not sure if they’re the same, they’re just different, you know, title changes and one is Head Office of Animal Health, from ’75 to ’79, another is a Chief Department of Animal Health, ’79 to ’88, another is Assistant Director for Animal Health, ’79 to ’88.

01:44:34 - 01:44:36

Was it essentially the same job?

01:44:36 - 01:45:05

It was all administrative title changing. It didn’t make a bit of difference in the way I did except one time I was put as, I don’t remember title for hoofstock or something of mammals. I did that for a while when there was a void in that. A curator. a quote unquote curator, but … Interim Curator hoofstock and giant panda. Yeah.

01:45:05 - 01:45:06

How did that come about?

01:45:06 - 01:46:17

That was a vacancy there. I forget who left, I think Larry Collins was a curator of giant pandas and some of the hoofstock, and he went to Front Royal when Chris Wimmer, that was about the time Front Royal opened up, I believe, and Larry went out there with Chris, because Larry was a graduate student of Eisenberg, in Eisenberg, and that was a tight knit between Eisenberg, Chris Wimmer, and Larry Collins. And so that went out there and left a void, and so I was just kind of marking time there till they rearranged it again. Was that something where they say, “And you’re the new interim head”, or were they saying, “Can you take this on?” Probably something about both, you know, it was kind of hard breaking in a new curator every time. So I thought well maybe I’ll save myself some heartburn for at least a year or so, and try to do that. Now you were Clint Gray’s, or an assistant when you first started with Clint Gray.

01:46:17 - 01:46:25

Now you’re the Head, you would have the opportunity now to bring in your assistant or more than one assistant?

01:46:26 - 01:48:04

I went to interns first, because I’d really enjoyed my internship at Angel, and I thought, you know, since we had so very few full-time veterinarians in zoos, and there seemed to always be the interest in veterinarians, especially students in zoo medicine, that I thought, “Well maybe we should be training them.” Now I was not the first, ’cause San Diego was training interns before I was, and so, but I came in I think a close second, and part of that came with, you know, as being veterinarians at National Zoo, and doing a few things, you were invited to vet schools to lecture the veterinary clubs and things on veterinary medicine, and I did that for a while, and it was kind of nice, and then I started saying, “Well I’m gonna tell these kids how neat it is to do all these things and there’s no jobs.” So, you know, I kind of had a double-edged sword. I’m gonna tell you, these neat things. You work with lions and tigers and do all this stuff, and work with great animals and stuff, but by the way, there’s no job so you’re not gonna get a job. And that was the same way with anesthesia for a while, I was telling people about, “Oh yeah, there’s this new drug, CI744, it’s great, you do everything or these, but you can’t get it.” You know, so why do you go out and you know, do that kind of stuff, it was kind of a double-edged sword, but eventually the drugs become available, and with the training programs, jobs opened up, so that corrected itself over time.

01:48:05 - 01:48:10

So you have these interns coming in, but did you hire a full-time assistant?

01:48:10 - 01:50:02

Yeah, I hired two. Let’s see who the … I have to go back in my memory bank, Don Janssen was my first one. He came out of the internship program at San Diego, and yeah, Don came in and you know, Don is just a prince of a guy to work with. I mean we just worked very well together, and he finally left and went back to San Diego, and now he’s the Head of the Veterinary Department, both at Escondido and Balboa, and I still keep in contact with him, but no, Don did good and Don kind of started, we were talking about computerizing medical records, and so Don had a little bit of computer experience, and so we got the old Radio Shack TS 80 or TRS 80, and started playing around with, you know, playing around with records. And so then when we were getting some stuff down, we did a workshop at a zoo vet convention of just very basic stuff that you could put on computers, like anesthesia records and retrieve ’em, and do things like that, and Don was getting some started on medical records, and so at the time Don told me he was leaving, I’m going, “Oh my God, what are we are going …” So I had this intern that came in, one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done in my life, I asked my intern, “Do you know anything about computers?” And that intern was Andy Tier, who developed Med Arts and did all that stuff. So it was just the right time. We had the stuff in place, and of course Andy took off with Med Arts and that’s kind of history.

01:50:02 - 01:50:13

Were you able to have during this time that you were now in charge of the veterinary services for the National Zoo, were you able to implement now programs?

01:50:13 - 01:52:09

Did you have kind of a free hand to implement things, “Ah, now I can do this or that or this?” Yeah, in a sense, I mean I knew one of the first big things was to get Montale on, get me a pathologist on, because Ted was, that was another, one other thing that we had, I had to sit down and discuss with Ted is that, well there’s two other things. One was, Ted said, “Well we don’t, I don’t wanna hire a pathologist, you know, it’s gonna cost us salary and stuff, we’ll go back to AFIP, and let them do it”, which was catch us catch you can’t because they had other, and I said, “Ted, we’ve just got an internship program going, it’s going really well, major part of my internship program is the pathology that the interns do, which is, you know, kind of ties it all together.” I said we can’t do it, and you know, Ted agreed to that. So we got the internship program, and then the other was, I wanted to institute reproductive physiology, ’cause of my association with Dave Wilt, and before that we’d traveled around doing the stuff I’d talked about previously, the reproductive evaluations in cheetahs, and then gorillas, and we’d gone to, you know, South Africa, and I wanted to get him on as a reproductive physiologist, but one problem there was Deborah Kleinman’s title was reproductive physiologist in the Department of Zoological Research at the thing, and so that was kind of dicey, but we finally got everybody on board, and David came on as reproductive physiologist, and then, you know, we started building up that staff with Jo Gail Howard and then Steve Manford, and all those kind of came in as students. And then Jo Gail stayed on as staff, got her PhD, as did Steve Manford, who’s now running the facility out at front row.

01:52:10 - 01:52:16

Were you able to, we talked about interns, were you able to bring in, or did you want to bring in foreign interns?

01:52:18 - 01:54:57

I looked at that, the internships when I first put it out, I’d have over 100 applications for the one position, and, you know, getting rid of the top, getting down to the top 20 was pretty easy. Getting down to the top five or eight was just extremely hard. Picking the final one was just terrible. Like we discussed last night, you know, any one of those eight or nine people could have just done a super job, but I just had to kind of decide which one that worked best with me, and after only maybe a 20- or 30-minute-interview. Did they come in to be interviewed by you, or did you travel around — I traveled out round to them, at that time, one of my perks was to go to the orthopedic meeting in a ski meeting for veterinary orthopedics had, so I’d fly out to the meeting, and I gave a few papers there on letting the orthopods know that I have a orthopedic practice too in the zoo, and then I do a little bit things different than dogs and cats when I have to work on birds, and various other things. And so then I would try to set up, I’d come back by a serendipitous route, maybe through Chicago or, you know, down and pick up and interview, two or three people, they’d come to the airport to meet me, and we’d sit down, have a beer, or just sit down and have some coffee, and chat for maybe less than an hour. And then that’s, but getting back to your question on foreign, I looked at some, but they just did not have the qualifications, you know, and this gets back to after we had a pretty good program established at National Zoo, various foreign zoos wanted to send veterinarians over to study with us, you know, like for six weeks or, you know, two weeks or one week or something, and so at first I said, “Well you know, we’re a Smithsonian, we’re, you know, we’re obligated to the diffusion of knowledge”, which is part of the logo, the Smithsonian, so I’d bring them over and you know, the equipment we had and what we were doing was just quite a few levels above what they were trained to do, or had the equipment to do, and so I could just see these kids getting so disappointed to go back and have to try to work in their situation without the equipment and without a lot of the training. And so I did that for a few years, and then I just said, “No, let’s do it the other way around.

01:54:57 - 01:55:25

If somebody wants training we’ll go there and train.” And so we did that in Thailand, which, you know, eventually led to my stay in Thailand, but we did that kind of all over where we, if somebody wanted to come in, well we’d say “Let’s, we’ll send a training group over for two weeks or three weeks and get something started, and do the training.” And what we did there is we didn’t bring over a lot of our fancy equipment.

01:55:26 - 01:55:30

We brought over some of the basics, and then we said, “Well, what do you have to work with?

01:55:30 - 01:55:31

You know, what do you have here?

01:55:31 - 01:55:32

What are your cages?

01:55:32 - 01:55:34

How can we access animals in your cages?

01:55:34 - 01:55:36

What’s the food you have here?

01:55:36 - 01:57:57

How can we modify diets basically to better meet the nutritional needs with what you’ve got without going to zoo premium or somebody else that has all these diets with all the vitamins and everything already mixed in it.” And so that was the way that we approached it, and I found that a bit more rewarding, and I think it was probably better than bringing, you know, people over to study with you for two weeks or something, because it could hit a two-week-hiatus, where you did nothing. You know, it had not much to do. What kind of team did you bring with you when you did this, yourself and … Well it was a reproductive team, ’cause we were doing reproductive stuff, and sometimes like, well we went to, I got a call right after September 11th, after the, you know, the attack on the World Trade Center, from my colleague, John Knight. He said, “Mitch”, he said, “I’ve got a training program to that I’m obligated to do in Russia.” And it was about two weeks later after the big, you know, scare and he said, “We need to give a training program to the zoo veterinarians in Russia.” He said, “Can you help me?” I said, “Yeah, let me make a few phone calls.” So we got some phone calls and I got about eight or 10 people and we flew to Russia, and spent two weeks over there, we got a head of nutritionist, we had some, couple other clinical veterinarians, and we gave some courses like that, but sometimes it was associated with training courses that Chris Wemmer and Rudy Rudran were part of the Smithsonian training of non-veterinarians, I would go with them and the veterinarians would be there, and we would anesthetize animals with their veterinarians, and show them, and mainly show the curators and administrative people that you could anesthetize animals, you know, with a little bit of training, and there was survival afterwards, because what I found in many of the developing countries, the veterinarians were so terrified of anesthetizing an animal, that they would not do it, because if they anesthetized an animal and it died, they were basically fired. And so the animals would maybe not receive the treatment, and die.

01:57:59 - 01:58:28

And so we tried to change that around by building up some confidence, and also educating their curators and directors that, “Hey, look anesthesia’s possible, let’s give your veterinarians a fighting chance to get their hands on the animal before the autopsy.” When you were Head of the medical services at National Zoo, were you also able to get a new equipment or technology?

01:58:29 - 02:01:00

Yeah, we were very fortunate at that time, we had not major unlimited things like people thought the Smithsonian just went down to the basement, the horn of plenty and money poured out, but I would have to justify them, with the laparoscope, that was a fairly major investment, and I got that at a roundabout way for diagnostic of TB, although David and I wanted to use it in the reproductive stuff, but with the TB problem and certain other things, and talking about the implications of the buildings, and how we’d have to manage the birds, and once we diagnosed the TB, we kind of came around it that way. And I got a lot of equipment donated, and we would, some of it wasn’t any good, but I got a zero radiograph machine, which was the precursor to the, basically the digital radiographs unit now that are everywhere. This was a very high-resolution radiograph machine that my colleagues from Hopkins, and the radiology department got me as a loan, and then the next year, they wanted to have me keep it, and the problem was a service contract on it for one year was $100,000, which was about three times my budget for the one unit, so we had to give that back, but … We were able to, sometimes, you know, when I have a colleague, a medical colleague and they would say, you know, “What do you need?”, and they’ve got some surplus equipment, then I made a very good contact with some biomedical engineers, who had access in the hospitals to fantastic equipment, they’d get a new set of monitors in, and they’d be throwing away 10 or 15 monitors that were still working that I could use, and anesthesia machines that were, you know, they changed the new gas anesthesia, and I was still using the one they were, so we’d get the vaporizers, so it was not just going getting new equipment every time, it was scavenging and being a little bit of a … Well being quite a bit of a scavenger to get what you needed. You’re recognized as a expert in a number of things, but certainly anesthesia, and working with remote delivery systems with animals.

02:01:02 - 02:01:14

Can you give us some of your reminiscences with some of the original people who developed this technology and how that kind of brought it along or learned things about it?

02:01:16 - 02:04:20

Well, I was always interested in, you know, how in the heck does a dart gun work, because I came in, you know, we put a little charge here and did something, and you know, you burned incense and danced around the gun three times, and then you shot it and sometimes it worked, and even more, sometimes it even injected when it hit, and I’m sure you’ve experienced that, so I started just doing some research to understand, and wound up writing a paper on how remote delivery started from having a hollow point 22 where you put succinylcholine in the hollow point, and you shot it into the animal, a big animal, and waited until you paralyzed it. Some of the newest state-of-the-art stuff is, of course, the DANiNJECT system now, but some of the very neat stuff is some of the stuff Lee Simmons developed in his blow pipes that he and I, I found the syringes and he found, got the blow pipe, and that turned out to be a beautiful delivery system that I used in the Serengeti and got 23 outta 22 cheetahs I shot with a blow pipe in the wild, and then he had a gun that’s still state-of-the-art, but he just doesn’t have any time to make it anymore. So that was very interesting on that, and let’s see. Some of the originators. Oh, Rhett Palmer taught, yeah, when I did, when I was doing this paper on remote delivery systems, I said, “Well, why don’t I go talk to the guy that kind of started it”, and that was Rhett Palmer and down in Georgia, and he was an interesting gentleman, the thing I remember about him that I met with him and through the day he started about 15 stories, and then we’d stop, and then by the end of the day he’d finish them. But you’d have to keep in mind about 15 stories or things that we’re going, and then he had a lion cub in there, and that he had running around, and I was a little apprehensive of the lion cub, not afraid of it, but he kind of appreciated that I knew how that I wasn’t doing that, and then he had almost every dart gun that had been ever made, or in a museum, that I hope somebody is gonna preserve sometime, because he was looking for patent infringements. So he had bought every gun that had ever come out. And so he was designing some new ones, and I’d kind of, he was kind of testing me before he was gonna go talk to me too much about some stuff, and so he showed me this thing and he said, “Well, how do you think that’d work, Mitch?” And I’d look at it, and I could see some traces from various other delivery systems and knew about it, so I explained it to him and explained about two or three, so I said, “Okay, you’ve got a …

02:04:20 - 02:04:52

You know, basically what’s going on and so let’s talk”, and so we talked about, you know, the history of the gun, the development of the gun, some of the experiences he’d had with it, how the military used it and various other things. Interesting guy. Very interesting guy. You talked about your going out and consulting to other places and that you were in Thailand, and that you had then decided, or you stayed for a while.

02:04:52 - 02:04:54

How did that come about?

02:04:55 - 02:05:55

We’d been going into Thailand with the reproductive team and … Oh, probably about 15 years ago we started going over, and then … To digress back, I talked about the training program, Chris Wimmer and Rudy Rudran had at Front Royal, one of the trainees was from Thailand, Asopon who then eventually came up, because of the training, and I went out there, and would show them anesthesia and stuff, and talk to him about diseases, and he eventually became the Head of all zoos in Thailand, and he’d remembered this and the training that he got, so he wanted to do the train, wanted that training and transfer of information, and our classic statement, we were teaching the teachers of the future, and you know, all that, and so we started doing some of that on the reproductive physiology with, and also the genetics, ’cause there’s a tremendous amount of cats there.

02:05:55 - 02:06:06

So Steve O’Brien and Dave Wilton, I went over to do that, and while I was there, I was looking at, you know, how do you anesthetize the, you know, do they have stuff even to clean teeth?

02:06:06 - 02:08:52

They had no gas anesthesia, so on and so on. So I talked to Sopon and he gave me a whole bunch of money to buy a bunch of equipment to take over, and so we did, took it over there, set it up in five zoos, you know, anesthesia machines, dental machines, and everything, and then I went back about a year later, and none of the machines were being used, all the dental equipment. So I said, “You know, this type of thing is not working. What you have to do is probably get over there, and have a presence for a period of rather than two or three weeks and do a blitz job, you have to have presence.” So then send a proposal and worked with Borapat who was a Thai that got his PhD at Front Royal, and then after I retired from National, I went over there and spent about three years staying consistently, you know, with them, so that continually we brought out all the old equipment, dusted it off, started using it, and you know, intensified the medical program, and that has worked, because I left and then I came back to do another study about a year later after I left Thailand, and we showed ’em how to anesthetize elephants and rhinos and hippos, and they were much better. I mean they, you could see the level of confidence and everything else, so that paid off being having the continual presence there, but then also as important as leaving. So they don’t continually depend on, “Well, you know, Dr. Bush will come up and do this.” I’m saying, no, you know, “I’m gone now, you guys have had, you’ve gotta pick it up.” And one of my proudest moments that happened just recently, one of my star veterinarians over there had, they did a hippo anesthesia, which to me hippos or Nile hippos are one of the most difficult ones to anesthetize, but they used our protocol and it worked beautifully. Not only that, she had a giraffe with the dystocia, she anesthetized the giraffe using the protocol that we saw, and pulled the calf and got the giraffe back up, and I think it’s doing all right still, which is, you know, excellent work. But again, the problem there is she’s going to do a Master’s degree in England now, and leaving the clinical thing, because in Thailand, a veterinary degree is only the beginning to get in a zoo, then you’re a veterinarian for about three years, then you have to go to curator or director or something, and so they have a turnover of clinical veterinarians about every four or five years, and so you have no mentors or you know, silverbacks in the staff for doing that.

02:08:52 - 02:08:56

But that’s something you just have to deal with.

02:08:56 - 02:08:59

And when you were in Thailand, were you then also still at National Zoo?

02:09:00 - 02:09:38

I had an … No, I, well, up until when I spent three years, I’d retired from National Zoo when I spent three years, but the other 14 years where we were going over there, and helping ’em, I was on staff at National. We talked about your sojourn into the curatorial ranks, where you had kind of agreed to — way of stating it. Did you find, how did you juggle this being the Chief of the Department of Animal Health, as well as assistant, the curatorial with your …

02:09:39 - 02:09:40

How did you balance all that?

02:09:42 - 02:10:22

I don’t think it was in balance, because you know, I think, you know, part of the role of a veterinarian is actually, you know, as an important part of management, if you get management right, nutrition right, you know, veterinarians are, you know, do the preventive medicine and then you’re, you don’t have to spend much time doing fire engine medicine. So I didn’t find it as a burden. I found it actually as kind of a relief, you know, to get into that area, you know, and being, having a little bit more control over, you know, the animals’ environment and stuff that you thought was a problem. Well, it sounds like you were a champion for preventive medicine.

02:10:22 - 02:10:37

And were you able to evolve that into the culture and were you able to do that on a national level too, when you would speak before audiences?

02:10:37 - 02:12:10

I hope so. You know, I just don’t know about the preventative medicine program at many other zoos, but I’m a big believer in that just because of the problem of manipulating our animals for diagnostic and other procedures, and I’m also a very strong proponent of proactive aggressive diagnostic thing, like if a zoo animal shows or a wildlife animal shows some kind of signs that you’re seeing, that animal is a lot sicker than a domestic animal would be. And so I like to be proactive, and that’s one thing I said, you know, “Let’s go ahead and anesthetize it. It’s gonna be safer to anesthetize it now than in a week later when it’s sicker.” And that was kind of maybe one of the hard things to get started at National when I started, ’cause I remember one time with Golden lion tamarins, and you remember when they were the Rembrandt species, the National Zoo had a pretty good collection of them at that time and they had ’em in a gang cage. And I remember Deborah Kleinman, who I’ve worked with, we’ve agreed, but hopefully most times, and disagreed, but you know, it was a balance, and I remember she finally, she said, “Okay, well now, you know, some things had changed.” Said “I’ve got a sick tamarin, and I’d like to have you look at it.” I said, “Great”, ’cause that was kind of unique that I was gonna get to look at some of the tamarin.

02:12:10 - 02:12:34

So I walk in this room and there’s just tamarins, you know, going everywhere, and they said, “It’s that one over there.” I said, “You know, could see it probably about over there on that beam, about 10 yards from in.” I said, “Okay, well what’s, well this just doesn’t look right.” I said, “Well, okay now, but we don’t want you to give it anything, and you can’t catch it or anesthetize it.” I said, “What am I gonna do?

02:12:34 - 02:13:36

You know, just look at it.” Well, you know, they’re very, you know, they said. “Deborah, call me back when you want me to do something. I can sit here, I don’t have a, you know, a tricorder like in Star Trek that I can read it.” And so finally one who really got sick, and they finally gave it to me, and Golden lion tamarins are tougher nails, I don’t think I’ve hardly ever remember ever losing one under anesthesia. They’re just … And we started doing some stuff with Golden lion, they started living and we started getting rid of some of their medical problems, and diagnosing some of their genetic problems, and so that was the type, that was the big shift from being proactive on it. And it was the same thing with the bird department, where I wanted to get proactive, and screen a bunch of birds for TB. “Well, they look all right right now.” You know, listen, you know, if they’ve got TB, they’re shedding it continually, and contaminating our environment. So if we’ve got a problem with one bird, we screen every bird in that exhibit and, you know, get really proactive about it.

02:13:36 - 02:14:14

And I think that’s an important part of preventative medicine, it doesn’t sound like preventative, but it is, and it relates back to what I mentioned on the developing countries. Proactive stuff is just not a way of practicing medicine over there. I remember in one zoo in India, they had a limping lion that, because it was doing all right and I looked at it, and it had a sore foot, you know, and we were there doing genetics and other stuff, so we had an afternoon off. I said, “Let’s anesthetize that lion, let’s see what that foot is.” And we pulled out a big chunk of dead bone that had been there for probably months.

02:14:14 - 02:14:52

But you know, they were just afraid to anesthetize it, because they hadn’t had the experience, so I had the Indian veterinarian scrubbing in with me, and so he worked with me on the surgery, so we just didn’t come in, you know, like Dr. Kildare or something and do it, and snap off our gloves and walk out of the operating room, it was there talking about it, “Is there any questions about, what is doing that”, and this is kind of the way I tried to work in Thailand, after every anesthesia or surgery, we’d sit down in the group and we’d write it up on the thing, what went wrong, what went right, ’cause everything can be always a little bit better, let’s think about it, what would be done differently?

02:14:52 - 02:14:54

Was our preparation correct?

02:14:54 - 02:14:56

Did we have all the equipment that we needed?

02:14:56 - 02:15:00

Did we have, everybody know the right instructions of what we were supposed to do?

02:15:00 - 02:15:13

So that was a procedure that I tried to institute there, so that you tried to think about what you were gonna do before you did it, but then review it afterwards, and see where you could improve it.

02:15:13 - 02:15:32

Now just you saying that just came to my mind, at the National Zoo, were you also then part of any animal emergency escape, as the veterinarians might be part of, and if you were, did anything actually ever happen, and did you do that same kind of review?

02:15:33 - 02:16:52

Yes, we did, but probably not to the extent, because we probably talked it out more, and I was more familiar, like with Bill Zanton, and I could talk it out and stuff. We didn’t have to write it up on a bulletin board, or anything else, you know, you know, ’cause I’d worked with Bill for so long, and with the Thais, it was just a few, maybe a few months and we were developing an expertise there. But yeah, we had the escape procedure, I had a couple of escapes, and one thing I instituted after thinking about it a while is I wanted a hit list. I didn’t want … If a polar bear or a major leopard got out, I didn’t want them waiting around for me to get a dart together, and find out where they were, and call on the radio, that animal had to be shot, you know, because of public safety. If it was out of the secondary enclosure, now that was part of the deal. If it was just loose out of its cage, and confined in the area, then we’d take care of it, but if it was in public area, and that meant with a lot of concern by a lot of, “Well, we can’t shoot this, you know.” You know, we have a responsibility to the public, you know, we have to be responsive to, we can’t let dangerous animals out. That finally got instituted.

02:16:59 - 02:16:59

Can I take a break right now?

02:16:59 - 02:17:08

I have to go to the washroom. You know, can you ask one or two more questions, then we’ll have a lunch break. Okay. I can hold.

02:17:08 - 02:17:10

would you go back to 14 or 15?

02:17:10 - 02:17:29

These are questions that have been asked specifically, under the interim period. Oh, 14, yes. Those have not been asked. Number seven, as well. I thought we asked that one. Okay. And he answered. Okay.

02:17:29 - 02:17:33

a different answer. (Mitch laughing) Okay.

02:17:35 - 02:17:36

Okay, Dave?

02:17:36 - 02:17:37


02:17:37 - 02:17:52

Tell me about organizations you’ve been involved with professionally, and what is their, what you believe their significance is in the development of veterinary care, specifically for zoos?

02:17:54 - 02:17:57

Well, by organizations you mean professional organizations?

02:17:58 - 02:20:37

Well, I think the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians has been key to the development of the profession, as I mentioned, I first started associating with it and saw its developments when it started back when I was at Angel Memorial, but it had been going on many years before that, I think Pat O’Callaghhan or something was one of the first presidents, and it predates me by about 10 or 15 years, where the association’s been going on. And it’s grown into a real mainstay both in the US and abroad, because we’re getting more foreign papers into it, and it led to the development of the College of Zoological Medicine, which is the recognized specialty group for veterinarians at practice in zoo and wildlife. And that was the way that we got started. We first went through a specialty group called an academy where we set, tried to set up an academy not as an elitist group, and we didn’t want the college to be an elitist group, but we wanted it to have people have a goal to shoot for in zoo medicine to show directors and stuff, “I have specialized in this, I have met certain requirements, I’ve geared my career toward working in a zoo.” And we started out by saying “To be in the academy”, which was a precursor to the college, “you had to publish at least two papers a year.” Which, and that was very difficult to get across, because there’s a lot of people saying, “Well, you’re trying to be elitist, you’re trying to set yourself up as …” We’re saying “No, the profession needs for us to publish more and doing publish more we’re, you know, we’re trying to enhance the profession, push back the frontiers of ignorance, which I like to use as a term, as we advance”, and so that became, and then that became the precursor of the college, which, again, met with a lot of problems, because we set up certain publication requirements, length of training, training under a person that was already a college member, so that they knew what we’d gain, but we also set up other ways of getting into the college, where you could by self-training, and, you know, self-education over a period of time, and have enough exposure to zoo and wildlife that you could sit for the exam.

02:20:38 - 02:20:44

And you can be a board certified specialist now?

02:20:44 - 02:21:08

In the various — It’s just like, you know, there’s board specialty in cardiology surgery, neurology, there’s board specialty in zoo and wildlife, and there’s subsections of that for like wildlife, aquatic fish, and …. Oh my gosh, I think we’ve got reptiles now.

02:21:08 - 02:21:13

There’s about four or five subspecialty — Marine mammals or — Marine mammals?

02:21:13 - 02:22:27

I think marine mammals are basically covered under wall, you know, we’ve had to group, you know, because we’re … I should be able to answer that question better, but … They’re probably under, I’m not sure, I would not be sure if I gave you the answer on that, but there are subspecialties under the … Yeah, it seems at times to me that marine mammal veterinarians tend to be very specialized in specifics, I guess maybe they’re a generalist in that specific area, or — No, I think that’s a very good assessment is, you know, some people that do reptile medicine only like, you know, Elliot Jacobson is classic, you know, reptile specialty, but he’s under the board, he’s boarded under the umbrella of that, and then we’ve set up subspecialties, the way the test is, there’s a first day of the test is general, just general medicine, general zoo and wildlife medicine, and then the second day you can choose your specialty, and then be recognized as, and that’s evolved over the life of the college.

02:22:27 - 02:22:41

During your time as the Head of veterinary services at National Zoo, do you believe, was there a balance between health, husbandry research achieved?

02:22:50 - 02:24:55

Yes, I think so. I think so. I didn’t have much problems implementing what I thought were health programs, or if I felt an animal needed to be anesthetized or looked at, as we talked about in proactive things, I didn’t have anybody telling me, “No, you’re not gonna anesthetize that animal, or you’re not gonna do anesthesia on that, or you’re not gonna do this.” I’ve had people not be happy with it, but I was never told I couldn’t do that. Nutrition, we’ve ran kind of the gamut, we had some problems with nutrition, we had nutritionists, and we had some problems, where they were trained to be commercial nutritionist, and they said, “Well, we can save $5 a ton or something or something if we use, substitute this for something else”, and the palatability or other complications came up, and we say, “You know, it’s not worth it, you know, look, we’ll pay the extra for the amount of that we’ve got invested in these, both as a conservation thing, and exhibit thing, you know, let’s pay the extra money, and do that.” Research, the research, it’s a national zoo. Initially when I came there was totally separate. There was hardly any research done on the collection animals, it was all done, they had their own research animal collection, which I looked after the health of, but there wasn’t anybody saying we wanna go down, and do any type of manipulative thing, they would do observational or behavioral studies by looking at animals and taking notes, but I didn’t feel that really affected any of the health or anything. And most of theirs was behavioral research. And I was able to do some research, you know, on the collection animals, and bring in animals to do research on, but, and I had no problems from that.

02:24:55 - 02:27:01

Nobody gave me any. That was some of the early research, probably the present animal welfare committees would’ve frowned on. Like for instance, I had a question, I was repairing bird fractures is when the bird broke a bone, and the way I was trained at Angel, and the way you’re trained is as a small animal vet, and you put pins in the bones, and wait for them to heal, and you know, then take the pin out. Well, I was doing that and it was looking very good after surgery, but they just weren’t healing, or they would, it’s not working. So I said, “Well, why isn’t it working when, you know, it works all right in mammals?” So we took a look and said, “Well, we really don’t know how birds’ bone heals.” So Dick Montale was there, and I knew some people in radiology and I said, “Let’s figure out exactly how birds’ bone heals, so that we can maybe fashion a way to repair it.” So we took some pigeons, and under anesthesia, I broke the humerus of one, and just left it in a cage rest like you would, and then I broke the ulna on the other wing, and left the radius intact for immobilizing it, so it didn’t move. And then we X-rayed the birds for over about eight weeks every week, and then we did euthanasia, and looked at the histology of it, and found out, we understood then why birds’ bones don’t heal well when you put a pin in it, because the major callous is internal and not external, so you put a pin in the middle of the bone marrow, you’ve disrupted it. And so if you just leave it alone and stabilize it good, it’ll heal in three weeks rather than six weeks like it is in a mammal. So we devised an external fixation technique, and published it several places, and …

02:27:03 - 02:27:24

So that was a way of actually having a problem, figuring out a way to do it using the pathology, radiology and everything to formulate and apply that what you learned almost immediately, and that’s what I like to use the term applied clinical research. And I’ve used that approach in several studies I’ve done.

02:27:25 - 02:27:42

Now at the National Zoo, and also in your travels nationally, internationally, you’ve probably met some memorable characters that have either — or including you?

02:27:42 - 02:28:23

Well it could be anybody. And they don’t have to be veterinarians. Oh my gosh. maybe some that jump to mind that maybe, you know, helped you in a unique way or made an impression on you in a wacky way or … But just maybe some of the people that you’ve touched base with, it might be just at the National Zoo, or can extend out. Mm. I’m kind of drawing a blank on that one right now. Maybe we can come back to it after I think about it.

02:28:23 - 02:28:25


02:28:26 - 02:28:33

Aside from being a veterinarian, and being immersed in that, do you have any favorite subjects?

02:28:33 - 02:29:46

I mean they could be zoo-related or science-related, but are things that interest Mitch Bush. I was so totally committed and immersed for so many years in zoo medicine, that about my only external activity was contact sports of rugby and lacrosse, that were my … And of course, you know, some time with my family and stuff. But that’s what has been the hard part of retirement. I mean all of a sudden you’re not doing anything, and people are paying you for not doing anything, and that is, and I’m kind of sitting back saying, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” And I found out one thing about retirement that probably a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s no days off when you’re retired, so you just have to keep working, or finding stuff to do. So … Retirement’s been a very tough, tough hurdle for me to go through, and I was lucky to be able to phase through that through Thailand and now immersed in redoing my home, getting it ready for selling, so we can move on.

02:29:48 - 02:29:58

When you’ve traveled internationally, what people have made an impression on you within the zoo field or the medical field that you’ve dealt with?

02:30:01 - 02:32:38

Well, South Africa where I’ve done quite a bit of work, one of the true friends and colleagues that I have there was Lynn Coley, who is the zoo veterinarian at the Johannesburg Zoo, who actually got me started in Africa, and I met some unique people at Kruger National Park from Gladys De Faust, to Cobbs Roth, and Dol Groebler, Roy Benjes, you know, some of the really great veterinarians working in a free-ranging park like Kruger. That was … Were they teaching you things about anesthesia, ’cause that would be — that’s the interesting thing, because I was invited over there to … I worked out some techniques, early techniques, for anesthetizing giraffes. It worked well in my hands in captive situations, and just to digress a little bit, used to always get calls or somebody call you up and say, “How do you anesthetize this, or how do you anesthetize that?” And what I’ve started doing is a disclaimer, “This is what works when I do it in my collection”, because sometimes in a different collection, one set of drugs or something else doesn’t work, so that was something I learned. So I took my technique of doing giraffes into the wild, and we did that, and I was drugged through acacias, and everything else as they started pacing, and never went down until we physically had to throw ’em down and had all kinds of problems, until we developed again techniques, that worked in the field, and then took them back into the captive situation, and they worked there too well, as we evolved in our drugs, and our techniques, and our monitoring, so that we understood better what was happening physiologically to the animal that went down. But yeah, I learned some stuff from my friends in doing anesthesia in South Africa, but a lot of it wasn’t applicable, because they would maybe anesthetized 20 or 30 Cape buffalo for a study we were doing, and we’d be never anesthetizing that many, you know, and elephants would anesthetize the whole family herd, and you know, to translocate ’em, and I’d help ’em do that, but … We had talked about different titles, so I just have a question.

02:32:38 - 02:32:51

Senior research veterinarian and clinical consultant, you did that ’93 to ’94, is that just a different title or is that a different position?

02:32:51 - 02:33:11

a different position where I was kind of sidelined a bit through some of the, what I would call shenanigans that were being done and they didn’t know what to do with me and then I went to Front Royal right after that.

02:33:11 - 02:33:19

So this time as senior research veterinarian was, you weren’t doing day-to-day things?

02:33:19 - 02:33:20


02:33:20 - 02:33:29

Were you able to do anything in this time that you thought was at least, “Hey, I got time to be significant in this area, didn’t ever have the time” or not?

02:33:29 - 02:33:33

I think it was in Africa part of that time. Okay.

02:33:33 - 02:33:49

And why, we’ll go right into it then, why did you transition to Chief of Veterinary Services Conservation and Research Center at Front Royal after that?

02:33:49 - 02:34:23

no veterinarian full-time at Front Royal. I used to take care of NZP and Front Royal from National Zoo and take care of both collections with just an intern myself. And now there’s about five veterinarians covering that area with about a third of the animals there. So in 1994, you went to then transitioned to be … They had a veterinary services at Front Royal.

02:34:23 - 02:34:28

And did you have a staff there, aside from yourself?

02:34:28 - 02:35:06

I had one technician, and we had a nice hospital there, one of the hospitals I built. So we had a good facility, adequate equipment, and we had enough traffic from going from Front Royal to Washington DC with various people that I could take blood samples, get ’em into the lab, and you know, send smaller animals that died down for pathology and things like that. So you’re at Front Royal, and I was gonna do a follow up question, but okay.

02:35:08 - 02:35:16

What do you think the veterinarian’s role should be in conservation since Front Royal is kind of a conservation place?

02:35:20 - 02:38:07

Well, I think the veterinarian’s role is multifaceted, because the veterinarian I think should probably, one of the major roles that usually people think about is the person that you know is evaluating the health, and the animals and keeping the animals alive, and doing, you know, finding diseases, and I kind of coined the term I think and published a little talk on it as reintroduction medicine, and that opened up a kind of a whole new concept, you know, everybody was just dumping animals or releasing animals into the wild, and doing things like that. And so I took the stance that, you know, it was part of our role was to look at the resident population if there was one, where we’re gonna release the animals, and are we releasing animals that have a good chance of surviving, because of skills or diseases or problems, and the classic thing of that was that golden lion tamarins that we were releasing in Brazil, we identified a diaphragmatic defect, that was causing some problems and we traced it back, and found that it had a genetic basis that was from a few founders, and then we wanted to figure out, well how do we diagnose it, so we had to develop a radiographic technique with contrast material, where we could diagnose the diaphragm defect in the animals that we were gonna release, but that was only part of the question, because we didn’t know what the situation of the diaphragms were in the existing free-ranging animals. So then we set up a field study, where we went down to Brazil, captured free-ranging golden lion tamarins, subjected them to the same screening to get a baseline there. So we established a baseline, we graded the defects from one to five, and we found no defect greater than three in the resident population, so therefore proposed that no animal should be released that had a defect four or five, so that we didn’t introduce something into the delicate, balanced normal population. And we also looked at some parasites that were specific to Golden lion tamarins, we wanted to make sure they were clean, before we put them out into the Brazil. And so that’s kind of one of the roles, and I think many veterinarians that contribute to conservation aren’t all clinically, you know, oriented like myself, I think I’m probably more clinically-oriented. Many are probably oriented toward epidemiology and studying other subspecialties, which are important in considering the habitat, and the overall picture, so veterinarians have a role other than just what I’ve explained on the clinical aspect.

02:38:09 - 02:38:34

I knew my question now was around, you talked about the hospital at Front Royal, you’ve had the opportunity to build two hospitals, when you built the hospital at Front Royal, was that because at the time you were doing it, you knew you were going over there, or you knew that at some point you wanted to have a hospital there for a veterinarian and staff?

02:38:34 - 02:40:05

Well we were told the vet, when the Smithsonian acquired Front Royal, it was the old Calvary Remount station for the Army where they bred horses and mules for World War I, and it had a great facility, and we had 3,000 acres, and it was touted as going to be the research center that it is now developed into after all these years. And so my thought was that if we were gonna develop this, we needed a hospital that also had research labs in it. So the hospital there has, oh, probably four or five research labs associated with it. And so we proposed to get the hospital there. It met with some concern by the people out there thinking they didn’t need a hospital. What I had was, I had a closet in two toolboxes, and that was my medical supplies, and thing before the hospital. And then we built the hospital, and we slowly grew into it, because the population out there wasn’t exactly that size hospital wasn’t needed for the existing population, but it grew into it. So now we need that hospital, and maybe a little bit more, and the labs weren’t fully utilized, when we first started, but then the reproductive group, and set up the major endocrine lab for the Smithsonian is now located in that hospital.

02:40:05 - 02:40:19

So by building the hospital when we did, when we probably had a little bit more money than we do now, it allowed us to grow into a facility that now I think meets the needs of the facility there.

02:40:19 - 02:40:24

Is there a primer for building an animal hospital?

02:40:24 - 02:40:32

Is there books that people look at, or is it just common sense, or what would you say?

02:40:32 - 02:43:22

architects have common sense. That’s what my philosophy was, if you take anybody that designs a hospital should have to go work with an animal, should have to clean cages, should have to shift an animal, should, you know, be around and work and see what the problems are, and not put the drain at the highest part of the floor, and make a drain for a giraffe house that’s smaller than the drain in your shower, you know, with, and there was just multiple problems with hospitals that I’ve seen built in Thailand, which I’ve tried to correct, but I think I had worked without a hospital for probably, well, five years or so in Baltimore, and three or four at National when I had a marginal hospital there, that I knew what I wanted, but to put it in perspective, a hospital needs to be built to meet the needs of the collection and also to some extent to the veterinarian there, because certain veterinarians have certain things, and they wanna build ’em certain ways, which is a little bit difficult, because veterinarians do change, and so somebody’s hospital may not suit the next person. My hospital had all the observation doors into the hoofstock at about six feet high, and my technician is about five foot one, so she had to carry around a milk crate with her to stand upon to check animals in the thing, but that’s not much of a problem. But no, they used to people, after I built the hospital, people from other zoos would come around, and look at the hospital and the first thing I’d tell ’em is say “The worst thing you can have in planning a hospital is an architect”, because they wanna go off and do all these other things, and make it real look fancy instead of functional. I think there’s a nice balance between function, and that, I would look at a plan and they would build an outside flower garden, that was three feet deep, and 14 feet long and I’d say, “No, close the wall out, and I’ll take that space for storage, since you’re already have it under roof and everything else” and turned it into our surgery storage, which we needed. You know, just things like that that we kind of looked at and processed, and of course you’re always gonna make mistakes when you build hospitals, and the first thing somebody says, “Well, where do you do the surgery on elephants and giraffes?” You know, and there you don’t have a big enough surgery. Well I don’t know of any surgery that I would take a giraffe or an elephant inside to do it, most of that’s done out in the field, so you don’t build a hospital that, you know, is gonna take care of every contingency, you have to be realistic, you could build an elephant hospital, but it would be astronomical, and I don’t know that I’d ever used one in the years that I’ve practiced with elephants.

02:43:24 - 02:43:30

What was it like to incorporate the fieldwork you’ve done into clinical practice at home?

02:43:30 - 02:43:33

Did you, how did you manage it administratively?

02:43:33 - 02:43:37

Is it, does it have applicability for that?

02:43:39 - 02:44:59

I’d say some of it does. Some of it was directly for the field problems, like our study on tuberculosis in the buffalo in Kruger, we’d had some experience with tuberculosis problems in captive things, but they’re two different problems in a free-ranging versus a captive thing, so that didn’t directly feedback, but we used some of the testing in some of the philosophies in what we’d learned in both places. I think some of the biggest things was anesthesia, where we would have access to number of animals, I mean, on some field studies, I would go out and anesthetize 15 or 20 giraffes in a couple week period, where that would be impossible to do in a captive situation, where you don’t have that many, and we would get access to them, we monitor them, we could get blood samples, we collect sperm from ’em, you know, get a lot of good basic information from ’em. So that type of research was directly applicable to what we learned, and then we actually did some work with the feline immunodeficiency virus, the feline aids in lions, and looked at that in various populations of lions around.

02:45:00 - 02:45:07

Did it work the other way also, things that were applicable in a zoo might transfer to field research or not?

02:45:07 - 02:46:03

Well we tried to do that with the giraffe anesthesias I explained and that didn’t work, because we had to change the way that we did it. And then the TB again doesn’t work as well in that direction because of, you know, you don’t have confinement, and you can’t get your hands on the animals as easily. I think, probably not really, I would think we’d get more information to help captive animals by doing the clinically applied research in a zoo setting, in a captive setting, which is more likely to give us more hands-on of the individual, more data gathering points, and making more valid conclusions from our results. You indicated that you were going out into the field.

02:46:04 - 02:46:06

How often were you in the field?

02:46:06 - 02:47:03

It depended on financing, and defining going in the field, I was probably going into Africa at least once a year, maybe once every other year, and those years that David and I went to Africa were the golden years, we had access that is unbelievable, you couldn’t have had now, because of paperwork and politics and stuff, we’d go there, we had personal contacts with the veterinarians there, and the people and we’d just talked to ’em, and we shared common interest in some of the stuff. So they’d say, “Well, how many giraffes do you wanna do?” And “Well, we wanna do 20 lions, so we can go ahead, and do that”, and “Well, it’s just some impala stuff, we wanna try …”, we just had almost carte blanche, you know, we talked to them and they could see some of the application of it, but now, it’s just too much bureaucracy, so …

02:47:03 - 02:47:15

Did you initiate, you said you got the money, was it things that people brought to you, “Can you assist us or were you, Most of it — “I wanna do this”, and they found you the money?

02:47:15 - 02:48:00

I had to basically find, I had to apply for the money from our zoological society. I got some money from Ringlings to do some of this, some other grants, you know, I had to actually raise the money to do that when we had some free transportation, like from British Air, it was a lot, we could do a lot more. But just to give you a, to refresh what we said before, in one day in working cheetahs in South Africa, we gathered more data than we did in months of traveling around at a great expense to numerous zoos. So economically, per data unit gathered, it was much cheaper in many studies to do it in Africa.

02:48:01 - 02:48:13

Were the animals that you worked on chosen because of a specific problem in a zoo setting that you were trying to solve, or how were the animals chosen that you would work on?

02:48:13 - 02:49:30

Some of ’em were, well first we went to collect sperm from elephants, because as we used to say, that was a mammoth problem. But then we started doing things like, I’d have an elephant down, and we studied must in elephants, you know, the … And we’d find one in must and then give it a hormonal treatment and then come back in 72 hours, and see how the hormones, testosterone, well, I had the feeling that if we had to anesthetize the animal twice, a major animal, let’s find out more. So we’d give it antibiotics, at the first time, a dose of antibiotics and then measures the level of antibiotics when we got it in 72 hours, and we got a nice paper published on how much antibiotics it takes to maintain a blood level at 72 hours in elephants, because we did enough elephants on one study to get another paper on the antibiotic pharmacokinetics. So that was, we tried to dovetail as many studies like that as we could. Was there, you’d mentioned the giraffe that was a little more difficult to deal with in a natural setting than in a zoo setting.

02:49:32 - 02:49:36

What was it like dealing with animals in their natural habitat?

02:49:36 - 02:51:13

It was challenging, and you know, it was just great, we first started out doing elephants, as I said, for collecting sperm and doing that, we’re doing ’em all from ground vehicles, driving around looking for them, and maybe we’d find, oh maybe if you’re lucky, three elephants in a couple of days, and get off, unload all our stuff and do our data, and so finally, we decided we got a little bit more money, let’s say let’s do helicopters. You know, helicopters were $800 an hour back then, so we did helicopters, and the first morning, we got five elephants done, because the chopper pilot would get us one elephant down, and they’d say, “When do you need the next elephant?” And we’d say, “Well it’s gonna take us 35 minutes to complete the protocol and get this elephant up.” They would go out, find an elephant, and then herd it back toward us where we were, had all our equipment, dart it, and then drop it sometimes within 50 meters of where we were working. So we were just carrying our stuff instead of driving all this time from elephant to elephant, and got tremendous amounts of data, in just a matter of a couple of days on elephants, because South Africa was nice working like that, because it had the infrastructure. We did work in Tanzania and in Kenya, where the infrastructure wasn’t that great, where they had trucks with hydraulic things, and pick up animals and move animals and do everything, and they were well-versed in moving animals, and they had all the equipment and the personnel, so it worked well.

02:51:14 - 02:51:20

Were there any things that happened that in the bush, in the field that were unexpected?

02:51:20 - 02:51:24

Any story or so that was — Oh God, how long have we got here to talk?

02:51:24 - 02:52:38

Well, we’ve got time for at least two stories. Not, you know, not really. We had some close calls and stuff, but we usually kept safety as a major, you know, major concern we had. I had a giraffe fall on me, but fortunately I wasn’t hurt too bad, and sometimes doing lions at night with a couple people with the rest of the pride walking around, I mean it, you know, can make you real aware of the sounds around, and we had a hippo that kind of woke up on us, and damn cut a guy’s leg and we’re lucky we didn’t get somebody really badly hurt, and the hippo had to be shot, you know, those are some of the bad things that happened, but the others were just great times of being out there work and have the brie and you know, just have a great time working with great animals in a great place, and beautiful place to work. You talked about anesthesia in different animals, we’ve touched on it, and you indicated that hippos are kind of tough.

02:52:38 - 02:52:49

Why are they tougher than rhinoceros or giraffe, or others that your experience is given?

02:52:49 - 02:53:49

Well basically hippo’s an aquatic animal. So you have the problem of them if they go in water, or if you dart ’em with a drug that causes ’em not to breathe, they drowned. So some of the early work where they used M99, or some of the narcotics, they just went into the pool after they were darted and drowned. The other thing is they’ve got a tremendous thick layer of fat in getting the drugs internally. Another reason is they’re difficult to get any kind of monitoring equipment on ’em, like your pulse oximetry and access to veins, and blood vessels are extremely difficult in hippos, and they’re tremendously dangerous animal if you don’t get it just right. So other than that, they’re fine to work with. You talked about Front Royal, and going there, the Conservation Center, there was talk at one time of closing that facility.

02:53:51 - 02:54:00

What brought that about, and that you’re aware of, and you think that would’ve been a good or a bad move to have done it?

02:54:02 - 02:55:09

Well, that was during the tenure of Small, who was the Secretary of the Smithsonian, and he was a former CEO I believe of Fannie Mae or one of the big corporations, and he was used to, you know, not having to, I guess justify many of his decisions, and Front Royal wasn’t a facility that wasn’t open to the public, it, you know, was kind of a, you had to know a little bit about what had been happening there, and he kind of looked at it economically and everything else and the budget was a little tight, so he just made the snap decision to close it, and he didn’t realize what a firestorm that would set up, because there’d been a lot of training done there, international training, so then what happened is the … We got letter writing, you got people writing letters of where they were, the people that we trained, mainly foreign people that were now head of departments, and wildlife throughout the world.

02:55:09 - 02:55:25

And then some of the breeding, the captive breeding that we’d done on some of the species, and one of the senators of that out in Virginia called Small into his office and said, had asked him some very specific questions, like I guess senators do, “How much money are you gonna save?

02:55:25 - 02:56:16

What did you know …” this asking him to have the specifics, which he didn’t have, you know, he just made the decision that he was gonna save money, so he was gonna close Front Royal, so then basically after, I guess, several months of hand ringing and you know, ulcerogenic thinking out there by the staff that they were gonna be shut down, he rescinded that, and now Front Royal has grown into this huge educational facility with George Mason University near there, and it’s, I think got a 300-dorm-room, and own cafeteria and they’re setting up all kinds of teaching facilities for conservation students, and so I think it’s gonna be finally fulfill the vision that the Smithsonian and National Zoo had for it when we first acquired it.

02:56:16 - 02:56:22

Does it still have that international flavor where they’re bringing people from other countries in?

02:56:22 - 02:57:06

Not as much as when Rudy Rudran was there. There are some international students going through the George Mason University that are there, but we’re not having the big groups of people come in, like we’d had 20 or more people would come in, and stay for several months, and get various training in conservation biology and we didn’t introduce ’em a little bit to medicine and things like that. So that part has kind of faded. Now, we had talked about, like, I guess I would say life after retirement from the zoo, and you talked about working at the zoo in Thailand or zoos in Thailand.

02:57:07 - 02:57:10

You’ve been working with the Adelaide Zoo also?

02:57:10 - 02:57:38

Yeah, after I got back from three years in Thailand, I got bored again doing yard work and things, and so somebody mentioned that there was a job open at the Adelaide Zoo, so I applied and sent ’em my CV, and they called and interviewed me over the phone, and then they flew me out there for an interview, and I stayed there a little, well a year, year plus.

02:57:39 - 02:57:40

And what was that title?

02:57:40 - 02:57:42

What did you interview for?

02:57:42 - 02:58:43

I interviewed for a veterinarian that would be a staff veterinarian, no supervisory thing, just taking care of animals. It sounded great. I said, “Hey, don’t apologize for that.” I said, that would just kind of be my ideal thing to finish out, you know, some quote golden years, or platinum years to, you know, be able to work with animals and they’ve got such a unique collection of animals that I hadn’t worked with before, all the marsupials and stuff like that, so … And I’d worked in Australia about almost a decade and a half or two decades ago, when we took our reproductive and genetic team over to look at koalas, and we worked with the group over there, and just had a great time with the Aussies. We were working up around Sydney, and going out and catching wild koalas, and doing all kinds of genetic and reproductive studies on ’em and just had a great time, so I was really kind of looking forward to it, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

02:58:43 - 02:58:43


02:58:45 - 03:00:41

Well, I … The situation was they had three veterinarians, three veterinarians there and they had a facility like Front Royal out at a place called Monarto, and a small zoo within the city. And I was there about five days, and I told the director, I said, “You didn’t need to hire me, you don’t have enough work for the three veterinarians you’ve got now.” Which kind of, I mean I wasn’t gonna, I felt I was taking their money, I said, “Look, you know”, I would sometimes sit around, and do nothing for a couple of days. And so I kind of wrote a position paper just saying, you know, I figured they were paying me for something, so I just evaluated, you know, the thing, next day I know I was put the Head of the department at about two months after my stay there, which I didn’t want at all. And then so … Tried to institute a lot of things, and basically it was my feeling that their medical programs was probably about 10 years behind what I was used to doing, and I talked to some veterinarians from the United States, a guy that was a orthopedic veterinarian that came over, no, he is a surgeon, veterinary surgeon, board certified, working in practice there, and he said the same thing, that the veterinary that he was working with, they were about 10 years behind in what they were doing, but that’s not true for all of Australia, because the thing that’s Sydney and Taronga, and stuff like that, they have excellent veterinary staff, and they’re doing stuff. There was just, this was an isolated situation, it’s a small zoo, Adelaide, but they had giant pandas of all things. So I thought maybe I was getting away from giant pandas, ’cause I’d had ’em in Washington, then when I went to Thailand, I had ’em in Chiang Mai, and I get again and find out when I’m in the Adelaide, we’ve got a pair of pandas there too.

03:00:41 - 03:00:46

So pandas have kind of followed me around for my career.

03:00:46 - 03:00:52

And then basically after being there while I told the Director who was Chris West, Did you know Chris?

03:00:52 - 03:02:38

Yes. “Chris”, I said, basically you’ve got two things wrong here.” I said, “Number one, you’re a roadside zoo with giant pandas.” And so he told the board that I said that and he said, “I have to agree with Mitch.” He said, “We’re not doing …” They had big logos like “We exist to save animals from extinction.” And I talked to Chris and I say, “I’ve been working in the zoo for a long time. I’ve worked with black footed ferrets, I’ve worked with, you know, cheetahs, I’ve worked with golden lion tamarins, and I’m not sure we’ve saved them from extinction, and we put a lot of money and effort into it.” So they just had a different, they were on a different tangent, I think, and they had a certain, they had the giant pandas in an exhibit, that they had mulch, that was about six foot deep, inside, and they couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t get rid of roundworms, and other things, and the pandas were itching, and the keepers were coughing, and they’d never changed the mulch. They just kind of stirred it up. So I said, “We gotta get rid of it.” It took me over a year before they finally decided to get rid of it, and I finally was asking nicely, “Well, why did you do it there?” I’ve seen panda exhibits around the world. And they said, “Well, we saw this paper about how it was”, and I said, “I’d like to see this paper.” And it was a paper out of, I think Brazil, where they put mulch underneath cages of primates, and all the insects would come and eat the feces, and you know, kind of keep it clean, and they didn’t have to do anything. Well, I said, “Well, a couple things. We’re not in Brazil, we don’t have the insects and they’re not primates.” So finally we got it out and I heard back that they’re getting the worming under control now that they moved it out, and the keepers are no longer sneezing.

03:02:38 - 03:04:11

So that may be one thing that’s happening. But … And then they were, I was gonna stay, I guaranteed them I’d stay one year. They wanted me to sign on for three years, I think because of my experience with giant pandas, and they were gonna try to breed them and do all this stuff, and so then I said, “Chris, I’ll stay on one year.” And then the year came up and Chris and I kind of talked back and forth, and he kind of convinced me to stay another year, so about three months later, after I’d committed the second year, Chris resigned, and went to Edinburgh, I think. And so I turned in my resignation the very next day, because we were planning to do some stuff that was gonna major, be a major shift. If I was gonna take charge of the veterinary program, I had to really step on some toes of some people that were well-seated into the thing, and I needed Chris’s backing and not, you know, indecision of which would’ve just destroyed the entire zoo infrastructure, because I felt there had to be major changes. Chris agreed with me and was gonna work with me, and I said, “Chris, we can’t, if we decide to move these people this way, we have to do it. We can’t lose this battle ’cause if we lose that battle, we can’t proceed with anything else.” And so when Chris left, I knew we were at a loss, and so they appointed some lady in the business thing as Director and I would’ve thought they’d at least given me an exit interview to, you know, get some information.

03:04:11 - 03:04:15

But no, they were just happy to see me go. So …

03:04:15 - 03:04:30

In the internship programs that you’ve developed, what has made you the happiest, or that given you the most satisfaction in these internship programs?

03:04:30 - 03:04:39

Well, just following the progress of my people that have done internships, and see where they are, and how they’re situated in the profession.

03:04:43 - 03:05:01

We talked about cheetahs, regarding theriogenelogy, can you tell us something about it, what it’s about, and how that has had an application to veterinary medicine, or zoo management of specific species?

03:05:01 - 03:05:34

Well, theriogeneology is kind of encompassing the, pardon me, the field of reproductive physiology, and assisted reproduction. It’s kind of tied in with those various aspects of artificial insemination, embryo transfer, you know, just general reproductive health, and trying to maintain genetic diversity in certain isolated populations.

03:05:34 - 03:05:53

And there’s been always this pie in the sky that people say, “Well we’ve got a frozen zoo, you know, ’cause we’ve got some sperm frozen somewhere.” And early on we kind of took that to test, yeah, you froze it, but when you thaw it out, is it viable?

03:05:53 - 03:07:34

And a lot of people hadn’t done that. So that was part of our study, Dave Wilton, I said, well if we’re gonna freeze it, we’re gonna thaw some of it out to make sure that we’ve frozen it in the right way, you know, the right temperature, the right extenders, you know, and thawed it out at the right temperature, things, and that was really an important aspect of really starting to see, you may have a frozen zoo, because many people just freeze it and say, “Well, look here at our liquid nitrogen tank”, you know, and we’ve got a frozen zoo, which to me is not viable. And then, you know, we’ve had some success with artificial insemination, and I think it has its place, but it’s not the panacea. We have to save the animal’s habitat, because if we can save all these animals, and we don’t have a habitat to put ’em back into, we’re just gonna have bigger zoos, and so it has to be at least a dual approach to the problem. And then there’s embryo transfer, and then there’s people that are talking about cloning and things like that, I don’t think I’m ready to get back up on cloning, but I just have to kind of look at where technology is gone that, I remember reading Dick Tracy in the comic book, where he had a wrist watch that had a TV in it, and now we’re all carrying cell phones, that are basically about the same, which we thought would never happen, and cloning may come, but again, it’s not gonna be the savior of conservation, unless we save a place to put these animals, and get a little bit smarter on how to manage ’em, and take care of ’em.

03:07:36 - 03:07:47

How advanced would you say veterinary medicine has become, and can you give me an example of that would demonstrate that advancement?

03:07:49 - 03:08:49

I think our key advancement that I see in veterinary medicine for me has been the ability to safely anesthetize animals, to give us access to them for diagnostic and treatment, and also for the research. Because if you can’t safely anesthetize an animal, you know, a lot of people aren’t gonna give you access to animals to do research on, your curators and keepers are gonna bock, it’s saying, “Well if you anesthetize the animal, you’re losing 20% of ’em due to the anesthesia, not the disease you’re looking for.” So to me, I think it’s anesthesia, the development of new drugs, understanding how new drugs work, developing our monitoring equipment to, so that we understand the physiology of the animal, and also just how to better support an animal that is under anesthesia to enhance its chances of waking up and not having a detrimental effect on from the anesthesia.

03:08:49 - 03:09:07

With the advent of the internet, and that applicability, how has sharing internationally and nationally on some of the subjects we’ve talked about, been among the zoo vets?

03:09:07 - 03:09:50

Is it instantaneous now or — I think it could be a lot better. An example that I’d like to give is in Thailand, where they’ve got a fairly decent cadre of veterinarians there who can speak and understand English, and they have a website, and I’ve been tried to encourage them for years to write your things in English, so that your other colleagues in European countries or, you know, the US can converse with you, and share experiences and help you with diagnostic ideas, and things like that.

03:09:50 - 03:10:12

They haven’t done that yet, and I don’t know of many websites that I would be able to go to and contact, and get information if I would basically go call the people, unfortunately like we did 20 or 30 years ago with the contacts that you know and say, you know, “Dr so-and-so, I’ve got this, what do you think?

03:10:12 - 03:10:35

You know, you got any experience or who else should I call?” Or, you know. So it still, I think, hasn’t fully gotten into the internet age in my experience, of course I just barely got a cell phone after a year, so I may not be the one to fully know how to access the information on zoo medicine on the internet yet, but I try to keep up as much as I can.

03:10:37 - 03:10:44

How important would you say science and research is in zoos, and should they be doing more in this regard, or less?

03:10:47 - 03:12:44

Well, as I’ve stated before, many times, I think the important part of research that I’m interested in is the clinically applicable research, esoteric research maybe, you know, but that’s not, I’m not gonna be going in for that. I mean that’s to answer some theory that I can’t in my mind directly relate back to how we’re gonna manage care, or take care of the animals, but it may be important scientifically. So I’m in kind of favor of information we can use right away, like I talked about on the bird fractures, and another one was the antibiotic doses of the elephants, and then I did some early studies on antibiotic doses in snakes, turtles, and birds, because they have different metabolic rates, and nobody had ever translated how these different metabolic rates affect the dose or the frequency that you give the drug, so that was basic clinical research that we used almost right away before we published, and I think it helped because initially when Gentamycin came out, it was touted as the great drug for gram-negative bacteria, which are one of the major causes of death and illness in reptiles, and they were giving the mammalian dose to reptiles, snakes, and we were knocking out their kidneys, because it was a nephrotoxic antibiotic. So we took a step back and said, “Well let’s figure out how long it takes.” So we gave doses of antibiotics, and then measured blood levels on snakes and found out you give half the dose every 72 hours, instead of the full dose every day. And we could obtain and maintain therapeutic levels without knocking out their kidneys. And just to make sure we biopsied serially, biopsied kidneys on these snakes, just to make sure we weren’t seeing some other subtle changes that weren’t showing up.

03:12:44 - 03:12:52

What professionals did you learn from it, who had the most influence on you in your career?

03:12:56 - 03:12:58

Mark, do you need water?

03:12:58 - 03:13:20

I think it was my mentors at Angel Memorial that gave me, you know, the founded thing of good physical diagnosis, you know, surgery, kind of the work ethic, that I developed there. So I would have to go back to my internship, and the time I spent there.

03:13:24 - 03:13:32

During your career, what would you consider to be some major, major events, that affected animal care?

03:13:34 - 03:13:35

In zoos you mean?

03:13:37 - 03:14:32

Again, I keep going back to anesthesia, the ability to do that, the evolution of new drugs, especially worming drugs that have greatly enhanced, you know, our preventive medicine, but unfortunately now many of the parasites are becoming resistant to it, so we have to go to other ways of controlling it. Understanding how antibiotics work, and various things, our development of the vaccines, being able to vaccinate animals, and protect them against infectious diseases. Probably our ability to diagnose better with certain immunological tests, and better understanding of many of the diseases that we’ve been faced with for years through the help of pathologists, immunologists, clinical pathologist.

03:14:33 - 03:14:44

Over the years, you’ve had positive and negatives in your career, but how did you philosophically deal with the negative things?

03:14:44 - 03:14:46

What was your philosophy?

03:14:47 - 03:14:53

And whether it was a personnel, or an animal, or you know, issues, but how did you deal with the negative?

03:14:55 - 03:15:37

Well I always thought that my job was better than working, so that was kind of the bottom line, that kind of was the thread to do it. I had certain outlets, and played contact sports, as I mentioned before, and took out some of my frustrations on that aspect. I don’t think I ever went into severe depression, or anything like that. Sometimes I had to talk to myself and said, you know, “What else would you rather be doing, and who else would you rather be working with”, and kind of brought it back to equilibrium.

03:15:40 - 03:15:45

What were some of the frustrating times, as in being a veterinarian?

03:15:47 - 03:16:31

Well, I think the initial parts, and … Before we started answering questions of just not knowing, and the information not being there, and we know that it should be there, and that’s I think what stimulated me to go ahead, and try to find some answers, and ask people, and try to set up communications and collaborations with other people that would help you answer those questions or work with ’em and answer, or challenge them to answer the questions. I think that was probably the most frustrating, but it was also the exciting time, because that’s where everything was new, and the things that we were doing were exciting at that time. But it did provide certain frustrations when you knew that you should be able to be doing a better job, or help that animal better and you just weren’t able to.

03:16:34 - 03:16:45

What was your philosophy about dealing, and having relationships with the staff, the curators, people above you, that you had to answer to?

03:16:50 - 03:17:47

Well, it’s my philosophy that it was my job to make sure the animals were in good health, and that the situation they were displayed in was not gonna be harmful to them, or the people that were viewing them. And I usually was able to communicate that to the majority of the people, of course some you weren’t able to, and you know, you just made your best effort, and I wrote a few memos for the record just to document it, but I’d say the majority of the time, I felt that there was a equilibrium reached, where we kind of got a meeting of the minds, not totally, but we generally went forward. But it was, I like to say also it’s ’cause I was bigger than most of the people that I was discussing things with, but that’s not the way you should handle the situation I guess.

03:17:48 - 03:18:07

You mentioned earlier that in your job description there was a sentence or a paragraph that said ultimately the zoo veterinarian had the final word on medical things, and then you said “They took that out.” So how did that occur?

03:18:07 - 03:20:07

Well, I think that was after Ted Reid left, and you know, people were just saying, “Well if I’m director, I have the final say”, and da da da da, and you know, “‘Cause I’m in charge”, and I ran into that at ABC, when I was doing some work at Largo, at the wildlife Safari there, they ran into some things where the head, some of the head people, vice presidents came down to evaluate the situation, and I found out some of my first giraffe anesthesias were done down there. And so we knew it was a scheduled one. So the vice presidents went to get insurance on the giraffe’s life in case I lost it, and they found out that they could’ve bought a new giraffe cheaper than the … So economically it wasn’t favorable, and then they got into certain things that they wanted to feed a zebra, that had been found dead to the lions, and I said, “That wasn’t a good idea, we should be getting a post-mortem exam, so we could learn about what that zebra had died from, and you know, make sure we weren’t having anything infectious, and if it was something, it could also hurt the lions, you know, because of what I’ve talked about, you know, with the barbiturates and things”, and they said no, and so then there was this kind of a standoff, so vice president came down, and talked to me, and they said they came down, “Well, I make the decisions that, you know, and what happens, you know, and I’m gonna say it’s feeding.” I said, “So you’re making all decisions, you’re gonna decide what medicine I can use, what all that”, and he said “Yes”, I said, “That’s all I needed to know”, so I walked out, and about a week later, after they had lost about six or seven animals, I got my job back with a good pay raise. They were just people that they came in, they were just used to bossing people around, and getting their way without actually trying to understand and use expertise of people that have been working in the field for a while. Let’s talk about animals.

03:20:07 - 03:20:12

What would you say was the most significant change you implemented in the care of animals?

03:20:14 - 03:20:40

I hate to keep going back to anesthesia and preventative medicine, I think, and hopefully, you know, just a philosophy of the proactive approach to a problem. In other words, I’d rather be shot down for trying, than have people say, “Well he didn’t get around to getting the animal looked at until, you know, it was almost too far gone to do anything.” So I think those are the certain things.

03:20:42 - 03:20:56

And then speaking of anesthesia then, is there a significant difference in your opinion, and in difficulty in working with animals in the field, and in captivity with anesthesia?

03:20:56 - 03:20:58

Do you have to be acutely aware?

03:20:58 - 03:22:34

Is there differences in drug dosages, or how it’s applied or — Of course there is, in free-ranging animals, you don’t have ’em as confined, and it takes a lot longer, higher dosages, and longer for the induction period, generally speaking. We found also with metodine, which is an alpha two drug that in giraffes, we have an excellent luck with ’em, when we darted ’em from ground vehicles, but once we darted ’em from giraffe, forget it, because the excitement of having a, darted from helicopter, I’m saying, once they got excited, didn’t affect ’em at all. So it took us a while to figure that out, ’cause we were using basically the same doses, same size animal, so that was a major finding. But then certain animals act, there’s only one animal that I know of that requires less dose in the wild, and that’s without enough data yet, and that’s hippo, for some reason the hippo in the wild requires less dose than when you have him confined in on a boma. And also, you know, you have a better opportunity to get the drug in a better place, a better dart shot, you can get to an animal easier, you know, in a captivity you can get your monitoring equipment on, it’s safer to get to ’em earlier, you know, you’ve got more people around you, and if you have to haul oxygen tanks for three kilometers on foot to get to the rhino that went down or something like that.

03:22:35 - 03:22:43

You mentioned that, well did you ever have the occasion to bring animals home to take care of them?

03:22:44 - 03:22:46

Oh, from the zoo?

03:22:46 - 03:24:33

Yeah, we didn’t have any night staff, so we had quite a few menagerie at our house at a period of time, we had quite a few red pandas that my wife raised, we had some maned wolves that my wife took care of, mutt jacks, Bactrian camel calves, wildebeest calves, always seemed to have something, golden lion tamarin, that was, you know, in a bad situation, or some animal that needed intensive care, and since my wife was a veterinary technician, that I’d worked with, that was just like an extension of that. And the sidelight to that was my son telling his show and tell that he had all these animals at the house and the teachers would say, “Now Benjamin, it’s not nice to tell these fibs, you’ve gotta learn to tell”, and he would come home just crushed, and so we got a Polaroid and took pictures of him with the wolves and the camels and stuff, and that shut up the teacher. Was there ever a time when you were working with it, you mentioned, hey, a giraffe almost fell on me, but — Oh well it did fall on you, in the zoo, or again in the field, where you felt “My life’s in danger here.” No, because it happened too fast. It seems that things kind of happened too fast, afterwards you realized, “Hey, that could’ve gone really bad.” Because most things happen so fast when you have to just react. You don’t sit there and say, “Oh yeah, well the lion’s getting close to me now with its mouth open and it’s accelerating, I think I better, you know, do something.” It’s more relaxed, and then you’re sitting down going, “What just happened?” You know, thinking well, I won’t let that happen again. Now you’ve traveled around, seen a lot of zoos nationally, internationally.

03:24:33 - 03:24:41

Would you say zoos today are potentially doing enough to manage their animal collections regarding medical husbandry groups?

03:24:41 - 03:25:13

I think it depends on the zoo, and the medical staff, and the facilities that they have. And that’s just a hard question to ask, generally I would think it’s probably better, because there’s more veterinarians full-time in zoos, and hopefully most of these veterinarians are practicing, you know, good preventative medicine and taking good care, and I think most of ’em are. And so for that reason, I think probably the medical care is improved. We’ve got better tools that we can use, better drugs.

03:25:15 - 03:25:25

We talked about the veterinarian being a generalist, but is there a particular family or group of animals that you prefer to work with?

03:25:26 - 03:25:28

And why, if so?

03:25:28 - 03:26:03

I like the megavertebrates, which are the rhinos, hippos, giraffe, elephants, just because they present such unique challenges. And I generally, I think I like hoofstock, I don’t like primates per se, reptiles and birds, they’re just there. But big cats can be interesting, but I would probably put the hoofstock as the ones I’d prefer. The least ones that I like to work with in the zoo are the people.

03:26:06 - 03:26:12

Did you ever have to work, and have challenges with invertebrates?

03:26:12 - 03:27:35

Oh yeah. Oh yeah, we’ve had a lot of interesting things, when the national zoo opened their invertebrate house, and working with cuttlefish, and trying to figure out how to deal with those and various other invertebrates, but there you’re basic and basically dealing with environmental management, you’re managing their habitat, their water environment, or you know, where they’re at, you’re not actually doing the care on the individual animal, because they’re affected so much by the way you keep ’em, the humidity, the temperature, light, count specific animals, that that’s another kind of branch of the medicine where you’re not actually going in, taking their temperature, or doing manipulating procedures on the actual patient. Never had to put a splint on a insect, or — Or anything or — Can’t remember that I did. You mentioned the medical committee, and how important it was, or the medical people to reach out to them, and consult with them. Did you have a formal medical committee, or was it just, you’d call people … It was ad hoc. I also used a veterinary specialist, you know, like veterinary ophthalmologist, veterinary dentist, so it wasn’t totally, you know, human specialist that I’ve used.

03:27:36 - 03:27:44

Have you ever had any experiences, where you lost a particular animal that you’ve cared for a long time?

03:27:45 - 03:28:31

Yeah, I lost an orangutan. One of our adult male orangs died on their anesthesia with me, and I did CPR on him for I guess 30 or 40 minutes, and we kept him going until he finally, we lost him. So that was when I … And then I lost a rhino at the zoo once, that some reason went ahead, and did a head press against the wall, and went down and the head was kind of pinched down, but I got the door open within a matter of 10 seconds, but he was dead, when they hit the ground. Some of ’em, I don’t have any explanation, why some of ’em died, but I’ve lost some pretty big animals.

03:28:31 - 03:28:33

Have you had animals?

03:28:33 - 03:28:36

I have in my experience, that die of shock. I mean just …

03:28:36 - 03:28:38

How do you define shock?

03:28:38 - 03:29:22

That’s the classic story of, you know, I think shock is the thing that you say when you have, can’t find another more obvious cause, I think shock is an overused term. I don’t think I’ve ever felt comfortable by saying that animal died of shock. Now an animal that have died of heat prostration, when some people would say, that’s shock or overexertion, but I think shock, per se, is too much of a catchall term, to people haven’t looked farther, or you know, try to find out the answer. I’m not saying that they can’t, you know, that it can’t occur, but I think it’s an overused term to explain deaths that should be looked into further.

03:29:26 - 03:29:30

What do you think made you a good veterinarian?

03:29:30 - 03:30:55

I looked at that question, I found that very interesting, ’cause I need you to define what is good. I had trouble with that question, since it was the first question. I guess I would say a veterinarian that was successful in their career for a long period of time, and made significant or good contributions to animal health. Well it’s an overused term, but I think you need dedication and commitment to doing that, and you probably, you need to have good, basic medical skills. And when I used to tell people that wanted to go into zoo medicine and, you know, and come right out of vet school, and get an internship, I used to say, well I kind of used my, pardon me, career as a model, where I went to Angel, and got intensive training in small animal, and I explained that to him, I say, “You can come here and train with me, but you won’t see, you won’t do, you know, the number of surgery cases, in the whole year that you’d do in a month or in a couple weeks in a small animal internship, and the number of cases you’ll see, that you can actually work up and get hands on and do that, it’s gonna be very few.

03:30:55 - 03:31:24

So develop your basic diagnostic skills, and your surgical skills in small animals, because many of those are applicable, and you just have to modify them, but it creates the way you think about problems, and the way you approach problems, and you have to then apply it to the zoological setting.” So do you think the skill set that you had when you started, is no or should be no different than a veterinarian starting today?

03:31:24 - 03:31:25

No differences?

03:31:26 - 03:32:01

I think it’ll be a good place to start. They should have those skills. Now I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have other skills, but a lot of the veterinarians now are looking, wanna be interested in doing zoo work, and you know, the clinical area’s filling up, and I say, “Well, veterinarians can do other things, like as we talked about before, epidemiology, immunology, pathology”, there’s still many areas open in zoo medicine that need veterinarians in a zoo, where you can be working around zoo animals, and make a contribution to their health and wellbeing.

03:32:02 - 03:32:09

You kind of alluded to something, is the field at this point in time as we speak today getting crowded?

03:32:09 - 03:33:41

I think it is, and by two aspects, you don’t see as many jobs advertised, I kind of just look at jobs historically, because I’m just kind of interested in how many people, but I’d say I look at the AZA job thing periodically, and I see maybe one zoo job every two weeks or three weeks, maybe that’s opening up, and I find that many zoos maybe like I discussed in Adelaide, have too many veterinarians, you know, then maybe if that manpower would have, went on to other specialties, or taken up other aspects of the zoological medicine, or taking care of that would be, so I think it’s, I don’t think it’s overcrowded yet, like it’s reported in a small animal practitioner, where there’s too many small animal practitioners according to the AVMA, and some of the journals I’ve been reading lately, but there’s such a tremendous interest I think in many students for doing zoo work, that, and many practitioners, when I was doing my internship, I’d get letters from practitioners that had been in practice for 10 or 15 years, deciding they all of a sudden wanted to go to work in zoos ’cause they were tired and bored of, you know, seeing small animal all the time. So I don’t know how many applications they have for zoo jobs, but I would suspect that there’s quite a few.

03:33:43 - 03:33:52

Should zoo veterinarians become zoo directors, and if so, why?

03:33:53 - 03:34:35

I looked at that question, and that’s something that’s kind of been interesting. I never in my wildest dream or nightmare wanted to be director. And I think it depends on two things, it depends on the zoo, and it depends on the veterinarian. I think some people like Lee Simmons was a great veterinarian and a great director. I mean, and there’s other people, Don Forest I know is what I would put in there, and Les Fisher and you know, some of the classic people, but I don’t think that’s for every veterinarian. There’s been also some examples of veterinarians that became directors that did very poorly, who we’ve talked about previously. And it depends on the zoo, and what type of a zoo it is.

03:34:35 - 03:34:44

Is a veterinarian gonna be needed there, or does the zoo need a business person, you know, or should there be joint directors or assistant directors now?

03:34:45 - 03:35:20

I know the national zoo played around with assistant directors and for a title, but I’m not sure, I think that question is kind of opened. I think some veterinarians get pushed into becoming director because they’ve had the education, and you know, they have the college degree, and they get fed up with a certain director not being able to do anything, because they haven’t got the good rapport, keep fighting and fighting, saying “The only way I’m gonna change this damn zoo is to become director.” And I think many directors, many veterinarians become directors out of frustration, and I think that’s probably the wrong way to do it, but I have a feeling that that may be the case in certain cases.

03:35:20 - 03:35:21

I don’t know, what do you feel about that?

03:35:21 - 03:35:33

Well I mean do you think, do you think a veterinarian may bring a specific type of skillset that other people might not possess, just because of their training?

03:35:33 - 03:35:37

Well, I think., I’m not speaking medical, but — The other skillset?

03:35:37 - 03:36:36

Well see that’s the trouble. When you go through vet school, you don’t have time to develop anything, like on management or personnel stuff, you’re right down the line on medicine, surgery, pathology, et cetera, and in Adelaide where they were, you know, they were having some problems with some of my coworkers there, I said, “What have you done?” “He had problems with personnel management, just …” I said, “Well you’re obligated to train him in that, get some special training.” We’ve never had that kind of training in vet school, if he doesn’t know how to people manage, he doesn’t know how to manage his time, he’s unfamiliar on doing financial budgeting stuff, those are things you can send people to learn. And that’s not within the normal skillset of the veterinarians that come right through straight through. And some people have that inherent knowledge, and can do it, but some people lack the skillset.

03:36:37 - 03:36:43

So that again goes back to, is the individual qualified to become director?

03:36:43 - 03:36:51

What would you say is the largest medical professional problem facing US zoos today?

03:36:51 - 03:36:56

And if there is one, and is there a way to correct the problem?

03:36:57 - 03:37:00

Strictly medical?

03:37:01 - 03:38:25

general professional problems facing US zoos today. Well some of that is actually due to where the zoo’s located, like in the south, in places you don’t get good freezes, parasites are just becoming a tremendous problem, because of resistance to the current worming medications. So that’s, I think is gonna, would fall into that category which you’re discussing. The use of sometimes what we call orphan drugs, where we can’t get the drugs that we know we need, because the FDA hasn’t approved them, and there may not be a large enough market for a drug company to make enough money to produce the drugs, like we know we’ve, there’s some drugs I’d love to have, and they just have gone off the market, and what we’re continually worried about is if wildlife pharmaceuticals goes out of the market, we’ve dried up almost all of our major narcotic drugs, and that’s on one person, Bill Lance is the person, through his passion for zoos, has maintained and kept that company going, and kept us supplied with M99, because we went for about four or five years with no M99, and that was almost a disaster, ’cause we, again, lost access to some of our big animals to do anything.

03:38:25 - 03:38:27

What replaced it?

03:38:29 - 03:39:23

We had to then develop other techniques with rompun and ketamine and stuff for our smaller antelope, and we did, but it still wasn’t, we still couldn’t get the rapid reversal, and the FDA kept going, “Well we really don’t need to do this, and this”, DEA didn’t wanna say that, you know, get this narcotic drug back, because it’s so potent, and you know, they were worried about its abuse, where, you know, M99 is so strong, that it would take somebody that knew an awful lot about cutting it, it wouldn’t be a good street drug, I don’t think. But the drug thing is kind of the cloud overhanging for the anesthesia drugs, ’cause if we lost M99, and some of the drugs, like carfentanil in A 3080, we would lose access to a lot of our larger species, and the convenience of having a good reversible drug in many of our hoofstock.

03:39:23 - 03:39:26

And this just on the one company?

03:39:26 - 03:39:33

One company, sole supplier, sole source, it’s made in South Africa, and shipped over here.

03:39:35 - 03:39:37

What do European zoos use?

03:39:37 - 03:40:24

They use something, there’s a little company up there, that uses, oh God what’s, it’s ambilan, which is atorfine and acetyl promazine, but when we were out of M99 here, I tried to import it, so I called the DEA, and I went through all kinds of red tapes, that send me the papers, he says, “No papers, we’re not gonna let you bring it in.” So they were so dead set against keeping it out, that I don’t think we’d have, we wouldn’t have any chance to get it, unless, you know, we got enough support from like the AZA, and other people in the conservation saying look we need to bring this drug in. Interesting.

03:40:24 - 03:40:28

Who would you describe zoos now?

03:40:28 - 03:40:30

What would you like to see them become in the future?

03:40:34 - 03:42:47

Well I think the main thing in zoos, we have to get people in, so there has to be an educational component, you know, relaxation place to show your kids, you know, I’ve always said to have a zoo, you need a peacock, a zebra, a lion and maybe an elephant, and most people think you’ve got a zoo, but, and then you have to be sneaky about educating them, you know, ’cause people are gonna walk right by. So you’re challenged on making ’em stop, and read about the certain species, because they’ve done studies where people maybe look at the name and maybe look where it’s at, and keep going ’cause the kids want cotton candy, or something like that. So zoos are gonna have to be a little bit more sneaky about, you know, how they educate people without being realized that people are educated. And then, you know, to make it more appealing, we should try to go for the naturalistic exhibits, and we have to be a little bit more careful on what animals we keep, and do they have a conservation basis, you know, are we keeping just a lot of animals to fill up spaces, because we’ve got spaces or we can breed one particular species, we to show that we’ve got a lot of them. I think we need a good program or master plan on what you’re, what species, a collection plan, you know, and that has to be scrutinized, and probably hopefully from some outside sources to get some other ideas in. So I think that’s, and having zoos probably applicable to limited clinical, applicable research to answer, you know, basic problems like I’ve discussed in the past, I don’t think they’re ever gonna, some of them they have maybe a big clientele can sponsor, you know, field studies, or small grants to get kids in the field, but as I said earlier, I think like in Africa doing work there of the type that I have worked on is drying up. But we gained a lot of information there, but it’s dried up. I think that’s kind of what zoos have to be, you can’t get away from the educational component, because we gotta get people in.

03:42:48 - 03:42:58

Well you mentioned, you said something about sneakiness, and educating people. Yeah. You’ve obviously thought about it a little.

03:42:58 - 03:43:02

Any ideas about how one might be sneaky?

03:43:02 - 03:43:02

You thought about that?

03:43:02 - 03:44:03

Well, I think there’s a lot of ways to do it, and that’s what some of the people that have go, and get college degrees in other areas, not veterinary medicine should be working on. I’m just philosophizing on, you know, how you present your signs or flash your signs or you know, incorporate the person into the exhibit, having a walkthrough area through the exhibit so they feel more closely tied with it or you know, something, something has to change and it has changed from our postage stamp type of collection to the naturalistic and then people say, “Well I can’t see anything out there, so what’s in there?” They walk by because they haven’t spent time to look at animals that are blending in and do that because it’s, you know, it’s … So there’s, I think there’s where a lot of neat studies, and thought and things can go into zoos. I just didn’t know if you had any ideas you wanted to patent here today. I’m gonna patent ’em, I’m not gonna tell you. During the time you were at National Zoo, you were inventing your way, new ideas, excellence was the norm.

03:44:03 - 03:44:05

Have these days gone away?

03:44:05 - 03:44:07

Has the bar of excellence been lowered?

03:44:09 - 03:44:09


03:44:15 - 03:44:18

Anything else on that yes, or just yes?

03:44:18 - 03:44:23

I think yes answers the question. Okay. Would you, okay.

03:44:25 - 03:44:37

Would you say though, for zoos in general, medically speaking, has there been an attempt to keep the bar at a certain level, and has that been successful?

03:44:43 - 03:45:09

I don’t think that they’re making the progress that we made initially. And part of that may be, like I explained in Baltimore, where initially where everything was wrong, not everything, but for so many things are wrong, and you did a little bit, you got a great big jump in the results, and then that kind of followed through a national, so now maybe, hopefully, the bar is at such a level, that it’s hard to push it, you know, to the last 20% or something.

03:45:09 - 03:45:42

But I don’t see that a lot of people are trying to do that, from what I’m looking at and reading the research, and reviewing papers and doing stuff and looking at it, I’m seeing stuff that is being rehashed to people that aren’t actually doing enough research on what’s been done in the past, and maybe doing what I would call esoteric research, that really doesn’t relate to the, you know, it’s nice research, they get a question, but how are you gonna apply that question to what, what did we really learn?

03:45:42 - 03:45:47

And the classic thing, does it make me a better veterinarian to know what this person just published?

03:45:47 - 03:46:02

And many times I can say maybe, but a lot of times I say “I don’t know how I’d use that information.” Now maybe I’m shortsighted and that, but you know, that’s kind of the way I’d answer that question.

03:46:04 - 03:46:09

Have you seen zoos change since you began your career?

03:46:10 - 03:46:12

Some good, some bad, all good?

03:46:12 - 03:46:50

I think generally it’s good. I mean I’m not gonna be totally negative about, you know, what’s happened during my tenure. No, we’re getting better zoos, we’re getting better exhibits, we’re getting better animal care, we’re getting better nutrition, we’re getting, I think, better support from the public, you know, people are getting interested in zoos, so I think it’s better. I have colleagues from the National Zoo that I worked with, and occasionally though, they would say to me that they worked in the golden age of the National Zoo.

03:46:50 - 03:46:55

Do you feel you were part of the golden age at the National Zoo?

03:46:55 - 03:48:16

Well it’s like we talked about last night, I think during the first part when we started there, and brought in Dick Montale, and David Wilt, and, you know, we had O’Brien collaborating with us. I think those were the, what you were just phrased as the golden years, and I kind of like to look at that time that’s when the NZP ruled. I mean there were two zoos that were doing, as far as I could see, major advancements, in the areas that I was interested in, and felt that I was being contribution, and that was San Diego and us. We were publishing, we would kind of compete with each other for the number of publications in a yearly zoo journal by the AVMA. But there were other zoos that were doing good work. They didn’t publish in the same way. St Louis had a good zoo, Bronx had a good zoo, you know, Chicago, Brookfield, those were all good zoos, I’m not saying that we were the best, but we were in my opinion, pushing back the, you know, the frontier of ignorance with the help of a lot of collaborators, we didn’t, you know, I don’t, I’m not gonna say I did alone, I had a lot of good people that I was able to collaborate with, and there was some other people that were doing stuff. I’m not saying these other zoos weren’t doing it, but I think we were at the top of our game at that time.

03:48:18 - 03:48:29

I mean many people are gonna maybe disagree with me but … But it’s your interview. Yeah. In your career you’ve seen a lot of changes in veterinary medicine.

03:48:30 - 03:48:35

Where would you say the greatest changes occurred, in diagnosis or in treatment?

03:48:36 - 03:49:20

Well I go back to anesthesia, that allows you to do both better diagnosis, and better treatment. So you know, I sound like a broken record, I know, but our diagnostic modalities have improved with the digital x-ray, with laparoscopy, with better analysis of blood and tissue, and things like that, and treatment is improved too because we know, like we talked about on how antibiotics, what doses of antibiotics, how often we should give them, we’ve got better vaccines now for protecting infectious diseases. But it still doesn’t go away from the fact that, you know, without anesthesia, we wouldn’t have as many improvements as we’ve seen.

03:49:20 - 03:49:26

And speaking of that then, are there new frontiers to be achieved in anesthesia?

03:49:26 - 03:49:40

Absolutely. We can do safer and safer anesthesia, and that comes through better monitoring. Like the pulse oximeter was our major, major breakthrough in allowing us to monitor animal anesthesia.

03:49:40 - 03:49:42

You’re aware the pulse oximeter?

03:49:42 - 03:51:37

That’s a little clip they put on your finger, your thumb when you’re in the hospital, and it measures your hemoglobin oxygen saturation. And so that’s, when that goes bad, everything else kind of cascades afterwards. And I remember one of the things, a couple of things that Clint Gray’s philosophy was, which I think he would modify now if he was still with us, was “You only use one drug Bush, don’t ever combine drugs, you gotta know which one are now”, guy, we’re like alchemists, we combine a lot of different drugs to play on the better one of ’em will get ’em down faster, others will stop the tremors, others you can reverse and get out, so now we’re mixing and matching drugs, you know, quite a bit. And then another thing in the animal would be laying there and he’d be breathing, I’d say, “He’s not breathing”, “Oh he’s breathing all right, two or three times a minute. That’s all he needs.” And so I’d say “Clint, try breathing two or three times a minute and see, see how you feel or …” you know, and then people were looking at the pulse ox, and saying the animal’s okay, when it dropped to 80, 85, 89, I’d say “Hold your breath and see if you can get it down to 95.” You know, and you start getting oxygen hunger at 95. You know, you may still have a little bit of color, you might not be blue, but you’re starting to feel it, so that led to us giving more oxygen supplementation, intubating animals, ventilating them, giving drugs that don’t have as much respiratory depression, titrating drugs, giving, getting an animal down, then titrating it by giving it a partial antagonist to get respiration back up, and so those are the things that are gonna continue to improve as we learn more, we get better monitoring, we tweak it a little bit better to make the animal better physiologically, and get the animal up with less after effect, and no, there’s plenty of frontiers out there that we need to push back.

03:51:37 - 03:51:45

Who is, where is the anesthesia research happening now?

03:51:46 - 03:51:49

You talked about, you know, we’ll get better and better.

03:51:49 - 03:51:49

Who’s doing it?

03:51:49 - 03:51:58

Are zoos doing it in research, or is it just, you’ve mentioned only one company doing certain things with certain drugs?

03:51:58 - 03:53:24

and he’s doing a lot of that, a lot of that drugs, a lot of the anesthesia studies right now are be done in wildlife, and I’m reviewing a paper right now of one in whitetail deer. But there’s a few studies that are going on. As I say, we don’t have the access we used to have in Africa to try that, but we’re getting several papers every month in our journal that talk about, you know, improved anesthesia and people are still working on it, but see, like we have good anesthesia for most of our species, like when we went over to do anesthesia work in Africa, we didn’t bother anesthetizing elephants to do anesthesia studies, because they had that down. You know, it’d be very great to anesthetize an elephant, and say you did all this stuff and do that, but we had other animals that we wanted to spend our time on because those were animals where we had problems, and people were having problems. And so we would target those, and our first publications on that in Africa would be in an African journal, not putting it somewhere over here in the US, where somebody in a zoo would read it, and not have the same conditions that we’re dealing with, and need different dosages, so we’d publish it in the South African Journal of Medicine and then abstract it over here in our journal, with the understanding that people have to think about that, where they have a different environment.

03:53:27 - 03:53:40

Any recommendations or words of advice that you’d give to the next generation of, and you’ve done a lot of it quite honestly, but are there any other specific words of advice that you’d give to the next generation of veterinarians?

03:53:41 - 03:55:45

I’d say improve your diagnostic skills, your surgical skills, possibly not in a zoo, but you know, in a small animal internship, a large animal internship, get those skill sets down, unless you’ve gotten great skill sets out of vet school, and I think vet schools now that are making kids into clinicians and putting ’em in clinic, and doing all that stuff may not be doing them as service. They may need more time from some of the basic sciences, and the physiology and stuff like that, ’cause you can learn your clinical stuff when you get into an internship. I mean I learned more about clinical medicine my first month and a half or two months in my internship than I would’ve learned through vet school going through, you know, a year or so of clinics and surgery, because it was so intense and I had such good mentors there. So I would say get your diagnostic skills up by making yourself more marketable, don’t maybe go down the straight clinical path, ’cause the clinical path may dry up, you know, but maybe if you’re still interested in clinics, you can be a clinician and do other things too. I don’t know, and don’t forget what other people have done in the past, you know, don’t be caught doing the same study somebody’s done 10 years ago and trying to publish it as new information. That kind of ticks me off. I’m halfway tempted in some of our meetings, where people get up and give papers to say, “You haven’t read the literature, why don’t you, somebody did that six years ago. You’re repeating what somebody did.” But I don’t feel like being the old guy in the back of the room with a little bit of a potbelly, balding and probably had a beer for lunch sitting up and having, telling somebody like that, they’re gonna say, “Oh, damn Bush, he’s just back there sounding off to hear himself talk.” But realistically, I’ve talked about it to some of my former interns and residents, and we all agree that, you know, that has to be said sometime.

03:55:45 - 03:56:16

I just don’t know how to get that across. And I think the other important thing is, for God’s sakes, have fun. I mean because you’re in a great place, you’re working with great animals, you got a great job, have fun. The fun’s not there from what the people I see now. I mean we used to work seven days a week, as we’ve talked about, and most of my interns don’t regret that. They said we just had a good time. It was fun working. We just, you know, we had the camaraderie, we did neat things and we were working all the time, that doesn’t happen now.

03:56:16 - 03:56:43

People want, “Well I wanna only work four and a half days a week, and I want every Sunday off, and I wanna be out here at 5:30 depending whether I’m waiting for a pathology report, or what the blood thing is gonna say, or if this culture’s coming out, you know, I’m outta here.” And to me, if those are my people, they would be outta here permanently, if they were gonna be on my staff then, and I think they probably should be now, if they don’t have that commitment, which I think we need in the profession.

03:56:44 - 03:56:56

Veterinarians are part of the animal care, aside from the other people who work with animals, where do you think animal care in general will be going in the future?

03:56:59 - 03:57:52

I think it may be taken over, having bigger influence with the tree huggers. You know, we’ve already seen that in the elephants, you know, they’re trying to shut down elephants in captivity, we’re running into the size of exhibits, population densities and exhibits and things like that, where people to, you know, that wanna try to make a statement, they may have good intentions, but they don’t have the good information, you know, to make a lot of the statements that they’re saying. So I think there’s a lot, a big, you know, difference between, a lot of people confuse animal rights with animal welfare, and I think there’s a big difference there, and people need to define that a lot better. And I think, I support, you know, animal welfare, I’m the big supporter of that, but you can’t get crazy about it.

03:57:52 - 03:58:10

In your professional career, have you had experience in dealing with PITA or other organizations, zoo check or other organizations, where you had to give your political opinion, not a political, but your professional opinion?

03:58:10 - 04:00:32

Not specifically with the government, we were asked to, you know, freedom of information, and they were trying to hammer me one time on the care of the giant panda, and we’re doing some stuff, and what I learned there is that the unfortunate thing with the freedom of information, it didn’t give me the opportunity on my record. Like if I went down and saw the giant panda and I said, “Okay, today the animal didn’t eat well, it vomited a little bit in the morning, but it looks active and alert, I maybe should be considering, you know, worming them at, considering worming this, we may consider that it’s had some exposure to toxic plant.” You can’t subject it, because they do that and they say, “Well here, they should have wormed it. They said they should have, you know”, and it just comes back and hammers you, and to me that’s that kind of limits ’cause you know, two or three weeks later if I come back and read, if I haven’t remembered that I’d, oh yeah, that was something and I should have, but you’re very careful now of what, or you should be, if you’re in a place, where the freedom of information is on what you write down, because they’re gonna come back and just kill you. And that I think is a detriment. That’s kind of the exposure I’ve had to that type, ’cause I had some things that, well, like in Front Royal, I tried to do preventative medicine, but sometimes in a herd situation, you don’t get around every Pere David deer in a 100-acre-thing and do a TB test every year, or you don’t get a clostridium vaccine in it, but I had that down as my protocol for preventive medicine on there, but I would do it opportunistically, if I had to anesthetize it, do a hoof trim, or if we’d ran it through the shoots, of course we did all that. So they started raking me over the cold, well you’re not doing preventive medicine, because you’re not doing this every year. So then we had to rewrite our preventive medicine and saying, “If it’s opportunistically we will do this”, rather than setting out some very strict guidelines, because they were just, you know, shoving it down your face, and they’d go look the right, “Well, you haven’t done this and this, you haven’t done this”, and you know, just trying to build cases, and spend time fighting that type of bull. You’ve been in a large zoo that had the ability to do wildlife conservation, both from a management and medical standpoint.

04:00:32 - 04:00:40

How do you see a small or a medium-sized zoo dealing or being involved with wildlife conservation?

04:00:42 - 04:00:46

Can they do it from a medical standpoint, or any other standpoint?

04:00:46 - 04:02:34

I think they can do it through the education that we talked about. You know, by having certain species, and I think they can serve as an important part is maybe holding surplus animals to maybe a surplus endangered species, you know, when you have too many males born, a certain species, but they could still tell the story around that and free up, you know, space and other zoos so we can continue breeding, you know, the endangered species. They can target certain things, I think a lot of things that I’ve been impressed with with small zoos is that they’ve targeted conservation, and endangered species within their low or no cow, you know, Sonora Desert Museum, some of the others, they haven’t went out and say “We’re gonna save the cheetah, we’re gonna save the elephant.” You know, there’s some spider or salamander or something, and this is what we’re doing, and we have this conservation effort going there, and I think that gets people thinking about conservation, it gets ’em thinking about it locally, and you know, I think that’s an important role that, you know, should give satisfaction to the small zoos that can’t reach out and, you know, support save the rhino and you know, all the bigger things. If they’ve got the finances, they could support, you know, other people that are doing this work, but I would suggest that they very carefully vet those, and make sure that not a lot of that money’s going for administrative costs, and you know, other stuff which always kind of worries me with some of the humane organizations, not to mention any names, but their initials are … You mentioned, you said something, I just wanna follow up just ’cause I’m interested, you used the word Rembrandt species. Yeah. How did that, I like that.

04:02:34 - 04:02:35

How did that come?

04:02:35 - 04:03:05

Is that your — No, I don’t think I can take credit for that. I’m parroting somebody else’s. I think it was maybe, was it John Eisenberg, or something we were talking about, you know, where we were gonna go and you know, okay, well we’ve gotta have certain Rembrandt species to get people in, or to justify our existence as a major zoo, and you know, of course a giant panda was considered that, and the black footed ferret and, you know, the big key icons.

04:03:05 - 04:03:06

What does that mean?

04:03:06 - 04:03:40

And to me it might mean one of a kind, but does it mean — No, it’s like a collection thing, like a Rembrandt painting, you know, he’s got certain, there’s specific Rembrandts around the world that are, you know, cherished and held in high esteem, and have to be preserved for the prosperity. I think, I’m assuming that’s … Yeah, no, it’s an interesting phrase. I hadn’t heard it before. A constant complaint, or at least a complaint sometimes from zoo directors, is there is too few good curators in the zoo community today. As a veterinarian, you’ve worked with quite a few curators.

04:03:40 - 04:03:43

What do you think are the top qualities curators should have today?

04:03:43 - 04:05:10

Well, they should have had a pet sometime in their lifespan, they should be an animal person, that knows how to handle themselves around an animal, that’s not scared of animals, that exudes confidence, you know, to both themselves, and also their keepers, and then keeper leaders, and just knows how to handle themselves, and is, you know, is somebody you can talk to and reason with. I mean, I’ve met some of those, and some of those, we have evolved into that type of a situation, I’ve had some that had no business even being in, outside, should have been outside the visitor area. I won’t mention any names right now, but I think we’ve all seen that. I don’t think it’s … Yeah, I think that, they have to be good people, managers. I mean, ’cause they’re dealing with their keepers, and they have to try to be the, I guess the mediator between veterinarians, and the keeper on the animal things is keepers become more emotionally involved in their animals, which I don’t have a problem with if it doesn’t become pathological. And too many times I’ve seen pathological attachment to their animals, that I think is destructive, both to the animal care, and to the person who is exhibiting it.

04:05:11 - 04:05:23

Have you in your career had to mediate between veterinarians, who may have had different opinions on courses of action?

04:05:26 - 04:06:28

‘Cause you had kind of a large staff. I didn’t have that large of a staff. I’ve only had one or two associates and mainly, you know, interns and residents. And being the alpha one, I didn’t have a problem. I listened to ’em, because your goal is to teach somebody to go out and do it, and you know, as I say, you know, I’d give people, somebody come to me with a way to do it, and I wouldn’t agree with it, but I wouldn’t say, “No, you can’t do it.” I’d say, “Let’s think about it if you wanna do it, let’s think about the hazards”, but if it sounded within reason, I’d say yeah, because that’s part of their learning experience, and I don’t know how to do everything right. You know, I’ve made tons of mistakes, and this person may have another idea that I’m willing to try unless it’s so out of bounds, or if I’ve tried it and gotten into trouble, I will definitely probably kabosh it, and say no, but I’ve never had to do that. Now there are fractional conflicts in zoos between veterinarians and curators.

04:06:28 - 04:06:28

Oh, are there?

04:06:28 - 04:06:36

Yeah, let me take some notes, I hadn’t heard of that. Between scientific staff and others, territorial disputes are common in the zoos.

04:06:36 - 04:06:48

How can these conflicts be worked through, and what advice would you give to new veterinarians to work through these conflicts, if they occurred on their watch?

04:06:48 - 04:07:15

Well, I think long time ago I developed a phrase that I think maybe answers that, ’cause I would sit through these things sometimes, I remember when I was first starting, and there was some conflicts with the curators, like I would have a resident, and a couple of students, and we’d walk through like the small mammal house, just to talk about various things.

04:07:15 - 04:07:20

I wouldn’t be going behind the lines, I wouldn’t be treating anything, I’d just maybe talk to a keeper and say, “How’s this animal doing?

04:07:20 - 04:09:07

Is it eating today?” if I saw him, but, you know, eyeballing it and then walking out. And then I would get stuff like that that would say, and I’d get called in the meeting, this is early on, they’d say, “I saw Dr. Bush go into the small mammal house, and I don’t know what he did, and he didn’t talk to me about it, and I want this to stop”, and, you know, I’d sit and listen to that and they’d have little picky uni things like that, so I stopped that right away one time, there was a new, that assistant director that I can’t think of right now, he had, and they had lined up probably 10 or 15 examples of something that I had, you know, were grossly, and I thought was just totally out of hand, and so I listened to ’em and didn’t say anything, not this, just listened to ’em all the way, so he says, “Well, Dr. Bush, you’ve heard these complaints, what is your answer to those?” And I said, “I only have one answer.” I said, “You get up and go out and shut the door.” And I said, “The one that comes out after you is gonna be right.” And there were about six of them. And that ended the discussion right there. I was so mad of all this bullshit. So I just told him, I said, “That’s it, I’ve had it.” You guys, you know, either get on board, let’s talk it out, don’t bring it to the assistant director en masse, of about a six week, you know, episode where you’ve been documenting every move I made. And that ended it. And then I had other things at Nation League, where I had a curator that says, came up and he says, “Well, I consider you just like the veterinarian down the street. I’ll invite you in to look at my animals, and you can tell me what we should treat it with, and I decide whether we’re gonna treat it.” I said, “That’s not the way it’s gonna work.” And so we had a few discussions about that, and we changed it.

04:09:07 - 04:09:11

You know, just talking to him, I said, “I’m not the, I’m responsible for the whole thing.

04:09:11 - 04:09:26

I’m here to work with you on this, but I’m not gonna be treated, offer a treatment that I think is the best and then have you decide on a medical thing.” I said, “We can discuss it, but you’re not the final word on it.” How important would you say?

04:09:26 - 04:10:17

let me finish, then what with all this come about, we decided, I said at another meeting, “Our problem is we have to decide what’s yours, mine, and ours.” And that’s, I think that’s still the key. What’s in your prerogative, and I respect that 100%, you know, I’ll talk to you about it, but that’s your decision. What’s my decision is the medical thing, and the health of the animal, and then there’s certain things that we both have to collaborate on. And now that’s, getting that defined in those areas might be hard, but I think those are the three basic areas that you have to think about when you have a conflict. And then either an assistant director or director has to then maybe mediate if you can’t figure that out on a certain situation. But I think that’s a good place to start.

04:10:17 - 04:10:33

How important is it for the veterinarian to have the, I’ll use the word confidence of the animal keeper, so you make sure they will come to you with issues about their animals?

04:10:33 - 04:11:51

That’s again a classic problem. Some people wouldn’t tell you because they’re afraid you’re gonna anesthetize it or do something, so they would keep things from you. And I think I overcame that by, you know, hopefully with the rapport, I had a little bit of that early on, but I don’t think that became a problem, because I was doing rounds most of the time, and talking to people, and you know, we had that, I had one intern that was so funny, that there has to be a certain mystique when you’re doing, you know, you have to have a certain ambiance or a carriage being a veterinarian in the early years, and probably now, he would go out and we’d look at something, and he’d say, “We have no idea what’s all going on wrong with this animal and doing this.” And you know, once or twice he said, but he kept saying, I finally put my point and I said, “Look, I know I don’t know what’s going on. You know we don’t know what’s going on, but you don’t tell the keeper that we don’t know what’s going on. We’re gonna find out what’s going on, but that shouldn’t be your opening statement.” It was like in vet school, I remember a lecture where the dermatologist said, “You gotta remember one thing when you follow up on a case and they bring it in and the skin condition looks like, the first thing you say, ‘That looks a lot better than I thought it would.'” And that’s kind of the same philosophy.

04:11:51 - 04:11:55

You don’t tell somebody, especially in a zoo situation, “I have no idea what’s going on, right?

04:11:55 - 04:12:12

We don’t know what’s going on.” We may not, I would say we’re gonna find out what’s going on, or we’ll work with you, and we’ll hopefully find out what is going on, but that was just, that happened one time, and I thought it was an interesting …

04:12:13 - 04:12:29

In your career were there issues that concerned you and the most, and if there were major conditions that concerned you, how do you see the future regarding those type of conditions?

04:12:36 - 04:14:51

Well … I think, you know, as certain as the education, I went through two phases at the National Zoo, where the keepers were all initially some of the lowest paid because the National Zoo used to be a city zoo, before it became a federal zoo, so we got a lot of people that hadn’t finished high school, both African Americans and others, and so we had a group in there that didn’t have much of dedication, it was the job, we had some that were good, like, you know, the education doesn’t mean that, and then it’s kind of evolved to where we had people in high school, then they said, well you have to have college degrees and masters, and then some of the people got so full of themselves, that they would challenge you not in a way that would be constructive to you know, discussion, but just outright challenges or coming out with a statement like, you’re not gonna do this and that, so that was kind of a thing that you had to settle out, and get squished right away. And I think that may be coming out more, because I think maybe some of the veterinarians aren’t ready to tackle that, they wanna be everybody’s friend, and I’ve, in Adelaide, I had one veterinarian that was just this nicest gal, and she was just a disaster, because I finally had to sit down, and talk to her. I said, “You have already been voted the most popular veterinarian in this department. You don’t have to do that anymore. But you know, really things go better when you’re not here, because you make all these promises, and tell people and then don’t do any of the follow up, or do any of the other thing, and you say whatever the keepers wanna hear, and that just is disastrous for us, when we come by and make another diagnosis, you know, that may involve more manipulation, or something that the keeper didn’t wanna hear, and so she’d tell ’em whatever the keeper wanted to hear. So I’m hoping that’s not a tendency that you know, you have to get this rapport, that they respect your medical things, and that you don’t cave into somebody that thinks they know more than you do.

04:14:52 - 04:14:57

In your opinion, what role do you think zoos will play in the future?

04:14:57 - 04:15:16

I don’t know. Hopefully it continues to be education and entertainment, and conservation up until the ability of the individual zoo, whether as we discussed in a local area, or internationally, depending on their funding interests and staff.

04:15:16 - 04:15:23

Did you feel it was important, and would continue to be important for research from the veterinary field?

04:15:23 - 04:15:42

Oh yes. No doubt. Yep, we still have to push back the frontiers of ignorance. There’s so much we don’t know. And the questions we don’t know are getting harder and harder to solve, because we’ve already solved the easy ones, or many of the easy ones.

04:15:42 - 04:15:48

Do you see a realistic role in assisted reproductive technique in maintaining endangered species?

04:15:48 - 04:15:54

And could you comment on AI, ET semen sexing, the rank of importance, these things?

04:15:54 - 04:17:37

I think is the most important. We’ve already shown that we can manage the genetic population of black-footed ferrets by frozen semen from some of the original founders that have already died and get offspring from that. We’ve also showed in cheetahs that we’ve been able to get cheetahs in captivity pregnant from frozen sperm from wild cheetahs. That’s not the answers we discussed. It’s one of the many facets along with habitat, and other things, but it does have a role. It’s something that I think we have, embryo transfer is coming along, they’re doing now some of that pretty good with Eld’s deer, or the Burmese brow antlered deer in Burma with the help of some of the Smithsonian reproductive people that go over there and help them. Sperm sexing, yeah, that’d be nice, because in some of our species, where we get extra males and have the deal, but I’m not ready to say that’s one of the most important things and as we talked about cloning, I’m not ready to go there, but who knows, in 20 years, I think if we’re talking about now, I would rank AI as the number one, and philosophically, embryo transfer has had a few successes and if it blooms out to what it’s been done in the cattle industry, you know, it would be a great help to have surrogate animals, you know, have multiple endangered, and important genetic animals carried. So yeah, I think so.

04:17:37 - 04:17:44

We spent a lot of time, I started, helped start a department in that, so I guess I have to be an advocate for it.

04:17:44 - 04:17:51

Now if I could allow you to blow your own horn for a minute, what are some of your most important contributions to the zoo world?

04:17:53 - 04:18:02

Probably leaving it. I don’t know, it’s … I think there was some who would disagree with that. I think there’s a lot that would agree with it too.

04:18:04 - 04:18:06

It’s been a long interview, haven’t it?

04:18:08 - 04:18:53

Oh, I don’t know. I think applied clinical research, answering questions that we have in day-to-day stuff, just getting the basic information from doing some, not Nobel Prize winning research, but research that’s important that veterinarians are gonna use and we’re gonna help the animals win. And then teaching, I think both teaching here, and then in Thailand, and you know, trying to get another cadre of zoo veterinarians that are hopefully motivated and stimulated by the time with me so they can continue to push on it.

04:18:56 - 04:19:07

With the move to naturalistic exhibits, and keeping animals in more naturalistic groups where possible, did veterinary care help or hinder these changes?

04:19:07 - 04:20:22

I think veterinary care made it possible, especially with the worming medication, because of the way I understand it, everybody downplays these sterile exhibits, you know, we’ve seen the matchbox exhibits, well I’ve heard a very interesting explanation for that, that came out of Germany, and some of the places is that’s the only way they could keep animals alive. Many times because of parasites, before they had worming medications they could flush out the feces, use sanitation before antibiotics, and keep ’em clean. So when I look at those now, I say, they were doing a job then with the tools that they had. So then as worming medication came along, and our better antibiotics, then we’re able to put ’em out into pastures, and warm them through incorporating it into food, and things like that, and then also going back to anesthesia, it’s allowed us to selectively take an animal out without chasing the whole mess through a crail or a catch system or in the bomas, and possibly further traumatizing them. And I think those are probably the two biggest contributions that veterinary medicine are made to the naturalistic exhibit.

04:20:23 - 04:20:32

Now there, from a management perspective, there’s opinions, but from a veterinarian’s point of view, what is your view regarding zoos maintaining elephants?

04:20:32 - 04:22:02

I’d love the idea. I’m a firm believer of it, because there’s nothing more magnificent than some kid seeing an elephant. I mean there’s, I’m still amazed every time I drop an elephant and get up close to it, and do something with it, it’s a magnificent species, and I think if our kids now need to get away from their iPods and everything else, and get out and get close one-on-one, not with contact, but just see the magnitude and you know, of an elephant. And I think think that zoos can, are going toward exhibits that are gonna be compatible with the wellbeing and the welfare of elephants. And people have always asked me about Ringling Brothers and their elephants. I don’t think they’re as bad off as a lot of people say, you know, they’re moving all the time, they’re within a family group, they have a purpose, they go out, they perform, they come back, and you see a few of the stereotypical behaviors when you go behind the scenes, but not as many as you see in some zoos with it, so I cannot, you know, down blame Ringling Brothers for sure, ’cause I’ve seen their facilities down in Florida, as I’m sure you have. They’re giving excellent care to those elephants, and they’re doing great stuff. So I’m a supporter of elephants in captivity, you know, with the proper exhibits, care, and things.

04:22:04 - 04:22:12

Pete’s not gonna get me to testify differently either. Now you’ve talked about you’re reviewing some articles.

04:22:13 - 04:22:20

To what extent do you continue to be active in the zoological field, medical field, conservation field?

04:22:24 - 04:24:39

Well I’m still doing internet consultation with several of my colleagues in Thailand who I’m talking right now. They’ve got a lion they’re talking to me about, and a langer and a few other things. They send me x-rays, blood work, and we talk about it over the phone and you know, I also use Dick Montale, I’ll send things and trying to get an incorporation, get Scott Santino who I think is a superb diagnostician, even if he wasn’t one of my residents. And you know, we’re trying to stimulate them to keep talking and I’m looking at reviewing papers, when asked, and I’m looking at possibly returning to Thailand as a visiting professor in zoological medicine at the school in Bangkok, and teaching there, and then continuing doing more work, holding short courses for Thai veterinarians for elephant anesthesia and stuff, because with all the elephants they have, they’ve had hardly any exposure to how to anesthetize them ’cause they haven’t had the drugs, and they’re a little bit hesitant to do it of course, because if you’ve never done it before, it’s what we said it’s a mammoth challenge. Now you indicated that people in Thailand are sending you information, that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago for you to receive, technology has allowed you to extend your expertise. Yep. And … we’ll continue to expand, and that’s why I’ve continued to ask them to put their website on English, and if we can get people to do, you know, websites and put things like that, I think they’ll get contributions, not only from me, but other people that are interested, and we can set up a network like that maybe from other, from Germany, and where they also have very good, I think zoological medicine in London, and there’s Austrian, you know, there’s a lot of good information out there, and there is not a central thing yet as I am aware of on the internet where that can be brought together.

04:24:42 - 04:24:45

Are there any procedures that …

04:24:45 - 04:24:53

Programs that you would’ve wanted to implement during your time at the zoo that didn’t happen for various reasons?

04:24:56 - 04:25:21

I thought about that question after I read it, and if we turn off the mic I could … No, no there’s not. Basically I was able to worm my way around her, you know, some people talked me outta stuff that I thought was good, so I don’t have any big unleft things. The main thing I thought was gonna lose was getting all that mulch out of the panda exhibit at Adelaide, but finally I got that to happen. But no.

04:25:23 - 04:25:25

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment?

04:25:27 - 04:25:42

Oh, hopefully being a good husband and father, and then zoo medicine comes after that, as does teaching and research.

04:25:42 - 04:25:45

And what would you say has been your proudest accomplishment in zoo medicine?

04:25:47 - 04:25:50

The applied clinical research and teaching.

04:25:53 - 04:25:55

In your career, how many interns?

04:25:57 - 04:25:59

Oh my God.

04:25:59 - 04:26:02

gimme a general figure, have you turned into the world?

04:26:04 - 04:26:11

I think it’s close to 20, and I don’t know how many 100 externs that went through.

04:26:16 - 04:26:24

In what ways do you think you altered the science or the art of veterinary medicine in the zoological field?

04:26:24 - 04:27:18

I think it’s very important that you just mentioned art, because we hadn’t mentioned that before, and there’s an art and a science, both to almost everything we do. And the art is through practice, and the science is through research. And so I think it’s very important to have both of those in anything that we do. And I think the most important thing maybe is, is possibly the anesthesia, and some of the research that we did like on bone fractures, antibiotic therapy, laparoscopy, TB control, orthopedics, and I dunno, radiology, I’ve got a CD out on radiology, 30 years of radiographic cases with pathology backup. It took me about a year and a half to do.

04:27:20 - 04:27:34

And is that an attempt to kind of encapsulate, you talked about people not looking to literature and so forth, is that attempt to kind of encapsulate a lot of things in one place where people can get information?

04:27:34 - 04:29:04

Yeah, but it’s very interesting, ’cause I was talking to Mike Stoskopf, who’s a professor up at North Carolina, and we talked about these CDs that you hand out like that. He said “Only 5% of ’em are ever used.” Now somebody’s done a study. So that really kind of just I went … And I’ve handed out, you know, several 100, and to realize that only 5%, I mean like in Thailand I handed out quite a few, and they showed me a case of a, I think it was a fox that had some lung lesions. And I pointed out, I said, “Well, what do you think that is?” “Oh, I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like that.” And then I mentioned, you know what I thought the diagnosis was, “Oh no, gosh, you’ve never heard of that.” I said, “It’s the first case on my CD is exactly like that.” So it tells me one thing, you guys haven’t looked at the CD that I spent three years looking at, and you’ve had it for a couple of years looking at it. So, you know, I don’t know, it’s … I think it’s just a disease that, or the new things, they just don’t go back and look, and it’s, if they haven’t done it, it doesn’t exist. And I’ve had a lot of my, I had all my x-rays that I had taken at the National Zoo thrown away, so I’m glad I did put ’em on on CD, and I was, they about threw away all the handwritten medical records that Clint and I and my interns and all wrote before Andy Tier got us up on Med Arts.

04:29:04 - 04:29:20

They were gonna throw that all away, just like I did archived, and so there’s, it’s just, if I haven’t, I think the philosophy, if I haven’t done it, it doesn’t exist, or it’s not important. Which, you know, I could almost strangle people like that. But there’s probably some penalty for strangling somebody.

04:29:22 - 04:29:24

Why do we still need zoos?

04:29:27 - 04:30:16

I think so people can have the experience we talked about with the elephant, to see an elephant. You can see an elephant on TV, you can see a giraffe on TV or rhino on TV, I don’t care if you’ve got the extra wide HD, the 3D stuff, you’re not gonna experience the same. I hope you’re not gonna experience the same thing of being, having the actual up close and personal to coin a phrase of that animal, those animals, and realize how magnificent they are. And it just kind of a, maybe we have to keep hitting people on the head about the dangers of these species, but I’m afraid that it’s a losing battle, but I think zoos are, should continue to try, and they’re good entertainment centers, and they’re many times in the inner cities that there’s one place they can go and they can have green grass, and hopefully have a good time.

04:30:18 - 04:30:23

What do you know about the profession that you’ve devoted so many years of your life to?

04:30:23 - 04:30:26

What do I know about it?

04:30:26 - 04:30:41

I’m still learning about it. I mean, I’m not sure what that question means, except that it’s fitting an important niche in both veterinary medicine and zoos, because of the interest and the need.

04:30:43 - 04:30:45

And how would you like to be remembered?

04:30:48 - 04:31:15

Oh, I don’t know. Oh, I was thinking he was talking about my WWF career. No, I don’t know. I think doing some clinical research, trying to improve the care of our animals, and teaching and developing a few things that have helped future veterinarians take care of animals better.

About Mitchell Bush, DVM

Mitchell Bush, DVM
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Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C.

Senior Veterinarian Emeritus

Dr. Mitch Bush performed his first case at Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, where he treated an impala with a dangling leg fracture.  After graduating from vet school he taught at John Hopkins and did pathology for the Baltimore Zoo.  Later, he became veterinarian at the National Zoo just at the time President Nixon announced two giant pandas were coming from China to the United States.  Both Pandas had physical problems, but Dr. Bush was able to handle this highly charged situation with the media and the country looking over his shoulder.  He worked at the National zoo for over 40 years, and continued his career with positions at facilities in Thailand and Australia.

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