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It’s Bear Awareness Week

Happy Bear Awareness Week. Let’s lead off Bear Awareness Week by reviewing how many people are needed to conduct a bear physical as safely and completely as possible. (And then, we’ll talk about Mimi’s physical too).

The numbers vary. We had seven for Yona’s physical and five for Little’s physical (and those numbers don’t include Museum staff).

We had a team of 12 people come in for Mimi’s physical earlier this month. Dr. Tara Harrison lead the team which included radiologists, anesthesiologists, ultrasound specialists, veterinarian interns, veterinary technicians, and veterinary students. We even had a ‘human’ pediatric cardiologist (one who treats humans rather than non-humans) attend as well.

The Team that came in for Mimi’s physical


And it’s not just the masses of people it takes for a complete bear physical. A van full of equipment from the Vet School arrived, along with vehicle loads of our equipment that we transported to the bear house. Radiograph equipment, ultrasound, computers, vitals monitor, anesthesia machine, oxygen tanks, radiograph aprons, blocks and plexi and foam for positioning, clippers, dental scalers, IV catheter supplies, blood collection supplies, tourniquet, sharps containers, fluids, stethoscope, laryngoscope, ophthalmoscope, lights, extension cords, medications, emergency drugs, vaccines, and boxes and boxes of additional “vet stuff”. The list was not endless, but it was immense.


Off loading the equipment from the van. The anesthesia machine is on the left. The large see through plate in the center of the screen is what will be built to become the radiograph table.


Lots and lots of planning is necessary when doing such a massive and potentially dangerous procedure. Multiple meetings among Animal Care staff and Veterinary teams occurred to make sure everything and everyone was as ready as possible. At the Museum, planning was in place for several weeks, and three days prior to the physical we started gathering and moving materials. Actually, our work to get the bears ready for physicals is ongoing. Operant Conditioning is ongoing, and necessary, to get the bears used to walking on the scale, being “poked” with a needle.

When equipment and humans are in place, we move the bear, Mimi, onto the squeeze area. We do this by opening the door, and that’s it, since the Animal Care staff have already trained Mimi to walk where needed. Below, we’ve got Mimi on our scale/squeeze area. In a matter of seconds, when we are ready, we pull the back wall of bars closer, “squeezing” Mimi, thus keeping her still for the injection. Of all our bears, Mimi seems to tolerate injections the best, which is a good thing since she needed 10 mls of meds to get her knocked out for us to start our work.


Thanks to Dr. Aronson for sharing this picture of Mimi on the squeeze. Dr. Harrison, right, was reviewing with Dr. Wallace, the anesthesiology resident, the plan for injecting sedation into Mimi.

Once injected, we let Mimi off the squeeze area and back into one of the indoor dens. Den 4 (you can see the door number in the photo below), is next to the squeeze, so this was the initial area of work. Mimi is not moved out of the den area, until anesthesiology has all their lines and tubes and drugs and… all set, and confirms Mimi is ready to move.

Anesthesiologist Dr. Balko, left, worked with Dr. Wallace the entire time. The two of them kept Mimi under sedation and monitored throughout the procedure, Their jobs– anesthesiology– required them to be present the longest, as they were responsible for putting Mimi to sleep as well as waking her up.


We moved Mimi out of the den into the staff space in the bear house to do a majority of the procedures. This area is 2-3 times the size of the den, and allows for all the equipment and people, albeit crowded, to fit. In the photo above, you can see part of our transport tarp underneath Mimi. It’s an emergency transport tarp rated for over 1000 pounds and has about 12 handles. This tarp makes it much easier to move her. I think we had 6 or 7 people (maybe 8) move her out of the stall and onto the “homemade radiograph table”.


Again, thanks to Dr. Aronson for sharing this picture of Mimi being moved on this transport tarp.



Radiographs came first, and I think 20 or more images may have been taken. Liz, the radiograph technician, is standing to the left of the purple, portable radiograph equipment below, while Dr. Aronson gets a look at Mimi’s eyes.

With only 4 radiograph aprons, there was a lot of back and forth of people coming to position Mimi and then stepping out. Dr. Harrison, our attending veterinarian and lead on the procedure, had one of the aprons. Dr. Wallace, anesthesiology, had on apron #2. Liz, of course, the radiology technician, had on #3, and Dr. Multani, the radiology resident, had the fourth apron on. (He’s wearing the red and white hat in the photo below).

A constant positioning and repositioning of Mimi, the radiograph film, and the equipment was needed.

Once radiographs (“x-rays”) were complete, it was time to move to ultrasound. Mimi had to be shaved for the ultrasound.

Dr. Cohen, white shirt, radiology, began shaving Mimi. Mimi’s shaved right front leg is where the catheter was placed during the procedure. You might also be able to notice a white cord clipped to Mimi’s tongue. this cord is connected to the monitor, so anesthesiology could keep track of heart rate, respirations, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and probably more.



I really like this next picture since it has seven veterinarians and one MD, actively engaged in the work.


Bottom left, Dr. Wallace is running fluids and monitoring anesthesia. To her left, is Dr. Aronson. Standing tallest on the left is “human” cardiologist Dr. Barker. Dr. Tou, the veterinary cardiologist is next to him leaning in and looking across at the computer monitor. Dr. Verdoorn, cardiology resident, is the one running the ultrasound on Mimi. Dr. Cohen, is on the right at the monitor (near den #3), while his radiology resident Dr. Multani (in the cap) looks over his shoulder. Dr. Harrison, colorful animal scrub shirt, oversees everything from the rear.


Mimi got her vaccines (rabies and distemper), and a general full-body physical. Radiographs, ultrasound, bloodwork, and urine were all taken. For an older bear (over 18 years old) she’s in pretty good shape, although, she is on the heftier side. We cleaned and treated a small abscess on her arm with long-acting antibiotics (which will also take care of a likely UTI).

Come, visit the bears, and look for the somewhat shaved bear– you’ll know it’s Mimi. Let her know she’s in pretty good shape for an old bear. (You can also let her know losing a few kgs would be a good thing).