Public Viewing Areas in Zoo Hospitals: A Great Opportunity for Public Education
In the past 5 years, several zoological facilities have built or expanded their hospital building to include guest viewing areas. This type of guest interaction has become increasingly popular and offers tremendous opportunities for guest education. Our guests are exceedingly interested in veterinary medicine and capturing their attention during medical procedures allows important education messages to be passed on to the audience.
The hospital facility at Disney’s Animal Kingdom includes a medical viewing arena as part of a larger major attraction, Conservation Station gives our guests an opportunity to view behind the scenes at a large zoological facility. Here guests can view the daily operations of our animal department by controlling cameras that have been mounted in our animal holding areas and exhibits. In the hall of animal care, guests can watch and learn about diet preparation, biotelemetry, field conservation efforts, infant care techniques, animal communication, fecal hormone analysis, and zoological medicine.
Every day, medical and surgical procedures are carried out in the hospital viewing area. Specially trained “hosts and hostesses” help welcome the guests to the hospital and describe what procedures are taking place. The “hosts and hostesses” have received instruction on a variety of topics including preventive medicine, anesthesia, quarantine, medical terminology, and veterinary instrumentation. At the same time, the veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and hospital keepers also utilize cordless microphones to help discuss the veterinary procedures that are being carried out.
This veterinary viewing room is a fully equipped surgical suite with gas anesthesia, rigid and flexible endoscopy, electrocautery, and ultrasonography. Four large TV monitors are used to help project images to the guests. These monitors have been placed both within the hospital room and outside the viewing window on the guests’ side for improved guest viewing. The monitors can be linked to the endoscopic equipment, ultrasound machines or to a camera that has been mounted on the surgery lights. This camera provides a “bird’s eye view” of surgical procedures and allows guests a close-up look at procedures with small animals.
In addition to the primary viewing area, guests can also look into the clinical pathology laboratory and radiology suite. Guests can watch as veterinary technicians perform hematologic and fecal examinations. The microscope can be linked to the TV monitors so that guests can see and be educated about blood cell types and zoo animal parasitology. The hospital building also contains a sterile surgical suite. This room has a ceiling mounted camera enabling guests to view surgical procedures. The surgery suite is equipped with a hydraulic equine surgery table and has enough room to work with most animals weighing up to 1,000 kg. This room is also used for procedures which may be inappropriate for guests to view, during these procedures, the camera is locked out from public access.
When procedures are not occurring, presentations are given by hospital staff members on animal health related topics. Radiographs, medical instruments, biofacts, and posters are used to describe topics such as parasitology, anesthesia, remote injection systems, quarantine, etc. During those times when procedures or presentations are not occurring, the monitors are linked to a continuous video loop that describes the field of zoological medicine.
The primary educational messages we hope to share with our guests include:
- A greater understanding of current advances in veterinary medicine
- A greater understanding of zoological medicine
- The importance of preventive medicine and a greater appreciation of the quality of care our animals receive
- A better understanding of the natural history of different species
- An improved awareness of conservation issues
A guest survey was done in the hall of animal care to determine what messages the guests took from their observations. Guests consistently rated their experience as positive and indicated that the animal care message was the one most commonly received. The veterinary viewing area has reached approximately 12,000–14,000 individuals per month since it opened.
The authors are indebted to the hospital keepers and veterinary technicians for their hard work in creating and maintaining the veterinary show. We would also like to thank Lidia Castro and Leanne Gagliardi for their help in training the hosts and hostesses. A special thanks to Chris Herman for her assistance in manuscript preparation.