The Art & Science of Hand Rearing

Anyone with an exotic animal collection can suddenly have a need for hand-rearing expertise.  Zoos, trainers for film work and corporate collectors/displayers all eventually reach a time when parental inability or mortality leaves them with one or more newborn animals desperate to survive. 

Rejection during the neonatal period (initial lactation) is frequently due to the mother not being physiologically or behaviorally adapted for successful nursing. Hand-rearing may be a matter of choice rather than necessity if it is desirable to socialize the animal for tractability.

Regardless of the reason, if neonates are to survive, proper husbandry must meet certain physical needs. Stabilization includes a complete physical examination to determine overall health status.

Neonates can be at risk for failure of passive transfer of maternal antibodies if rejected before receiving colostrum. Immediate administration of imunoglobins for correction of failure of passive transfer cannot be emphasized enough. Appropriate veterinary directed antibiotic treatment may be indicated to prevent sepsis.  Aggressive supportive therapy is necessary to assist the animal’s ability to thermoregulate and to correct dehydration. Well-formulated, aseptic nutrition will promote proper development.  

All factors contributing to a successful outcome are based on a proactive approach.  Look at the underlying elements that can benefit from a PLAN. Imagine the worst-case scenario and be prepared with the necessary items commonly used in hand rearing. Time and attention to detail are required for the 24hr monitoring.  It is often stated that hand rearing is more of an art than a science, it is these two concepts together that lead to a successful outcome.

In these situations, experience shows that chances of survival are higher when care is limited to a minimum number of people, preferably one or two. Limited handling reduces stress on the animal; consistent routines allow for high intensity nurturing and more accurate records. Most important, the caregiver accrues experience from animal to animal.


Consulting Services

With a strong background that includes practical knowledge and hands-on experience in neonatal care spanning all animal groups, Gail Hedberg understands the link between the public’s fascination with baby animals, the enormous appeal they hold and the need to present an informed balance between human interests and animal interests to the media and the general public.  Your program can benefit by Gail’s expertise as a neonatal care specialist, as her work upholds the best interests of your infant animal. Her guidance and training of your staff will help to best prepare your animal for the situation it will occupy as an adult.  Her proven formula is through experience, patience, and a thorough understanding of an infant animal’s needs. Gail has developed her finely-tuned craft and others have benefited greatly.

The field of hand-rearing exotic animals has few experts, and its demands differ so radically from established adult husbandry guidelines. It is often difficult for regular staff to make the transition. That is the reason for a zoo animal neonatal care specialist — to provide training, advice, consultation, and, when necessary, the actual care. Unfortunately, the need for such persons is invariably unscheduled, and few organizations have the resources to keep such persons on staff for the possible event.

Over the years, Gail Hedberg has been called upon nationally and internationally to consult on a broad range of newborn exotic animal care issues.  She can instruct and advise you in all aspects of hand-rearing, including techniques, tactics and identification of problems.

Here are some important elements:

• On Site Care – Advising staff in setting up safe husbandry and handling practices. Implementing protocols and supervising staff training.

• Diet Quality – Creating an optimum diet and a strict feeding schedule which is flexible enough to be adapted to individual needs.

• Consistency of handling and feeding – This is vital to maintain an accurate picture of the animal’s development, coupled with daily weighing and reinforcing the need to keep a meticulously clean nursery environment with detailed documented nursery records.

• Creating a stress-free environment – This is crucial, especially during the critical birth to weaning period, if desired results are to be realized.

• Recognition and interpretation of abnormal behavior – Identifying aberrant behavior and determining if it is indicative of disease, congenital problems or difficult growth phases.

• Animal-to-animal socialization – Examining the need for a companion animal to assist in the rearing process.

• Animal-to-human socialization – Acclimating the animal to tolerance for close presence of humans, male as well as female.

• Teething and weaning – An extremely critical developmental processes. Transition into and through these phases must be monitored and well-managed.

• Behavioral molding – Teaching the animal basic “good manners” and providing a solid foundation for its capacity to respond to an enriched captive environment.

Professional Qualifications and Successful Hand-Rearing projects
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