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Published: Saturday, 6/25/2005

Infectious bacteria in animals closes Children's Zoo

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Children's Zoo at the Toledo Zoo was shut down yesterday following the discovery of an infectious bacteria in several of its animals.

And zoo officials said last night that the petting portion of the children's facility could remain closed for the rest of the summer.

Last week, two baby calves sharing the same stall tested positive during routine testing for a bacteria known as Campylobacter, a common cause of gastrointestinal illness. A sow that had just given birth in an adjacent stall also tested positive.

The three animals - which were kept in stall areas beyond the reach of zoo patrons - were isolated for observation, although none shows signs of sickness, zoo officials said.

The 30 or so barnyard animals in the children's zoo, including goats, sheep, pigs, and calves, were retested.

Yesterday, the bacteria was found in fecal matter collected from a group of about a half-dozen sheep in the children's zoo petting area.

The children's zoo was shut down an hour before closing yesterday and will be closed for the entire weekend while animal care staff assess the situation.

Andrew Odum, the chairman of the zoo's biological programs committee who oversees animal care issues at the zoo, said the closing was primarily a precautionary measure. "It's a very common, widespread bacteria. Most of the time it doesn't cause problems, but it can," he said.

"This is not a major public health hazard, we're just being extremely, extremely cautious."

Zoo officials said none of the other animals showed signs of sickness, and there were no reports of patrons who have become ill.

Symptoms of Campylobacteriosis, the disease caused by Campylobacter, include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever.

It is transferred by saliva and touching of an animal's feces, and symptoms would appear two to five days after exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The bacteria acts very similarly to salmonella, but is not as serious," said Dr. Wynona Shellabarger, the zoo's acting chief veterinarian.

Zoo officials are still trying to determine to what extent the bacteria is present.

A second, week-long culture test of the sow has come back negative for the bacteria. Second tests on the other animals are expected next week.

Mr. Odum said this is the first time he can remember the children's zoo being shut down for such a reason.

Over the weekend, animal care staff at the zoo will decide on a long-term solution to the problem.

Mitch Magdich, curator of education who oversees the children's zoo, said zoo officials will look at ways to keep the children's zoo petting area in operation.

One option might be to include the zoo's educational dogs, llama-like alpacas, dwarf Nigerian goats, and pot bellied pigs, which are not currently part of the children's zoo.

The children's zoo's animals are loaned to the zoo by area farmers and institutions for the summer.

The zoo's calves and pigs arrived in May from several area farmers, while the sheep arrived in May from the University of Findlay.

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050



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