This week's Chicagoan: Michael Adkesson, veterinarian, Brookfield Zoo | Chicagoans | Chicago Reader

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This week's Chicagoan: Michael Adkesson, veterinarian, Brookfield Zoo

"You're basically doing a root canal on a very large scale. The elephant's doing great."


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A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"My wife's a small-animal vet, and we always joke that at parties, she's got the most interesting job—until they find out what I do. People are always like, 'I love veterinary medicine, and I've got this cat,' and then the conversation turns to me: 'What do you work with?'

"The follow-up question always seems to be: 'You work with all the animals at the zoo? Even the . . . ?' I always find it interesting what people jump to. 'Even the elephants? Even the dolphins? Even the snakes?'

"There's an aardvark here named Bernaard. He's one of my favorites. I don't really have a good reason. He's just a very friendly, sweet animal. We've got a sea lion named Zuma that is another one I've gotten attached to. He had a couple cataracts, so we did surgery on him, which is not a simple procedure. Sea lions hold their breath underwater, and they tend to do the same thing under anesthesia.

"There's a zoo in Colombia that has an elephant, and they asked if there was anything we could do to help them with this elephant that had an infection in one of its tusks. He was confiscated from one of the drug cartels down there. Several of the cartels owned elephants. There was a lot of money floating around, and they could buy elephants, and they did. Anyway, there was no expertise in Colombia to safely immobilize and anesthetize an elephant. So Dr. Carlos Sanchez and I went down there and brought a veterinary dentist with us. You're basically doing a root canal on a very large scale. The elephant's doing great.

"A lot of the primates recognize me as the vet. I've been on the visitors' side in normal clothes, and some of the apes still spy me. They'll pick me out of the crowd. You can tell by the way they're looking at you.

"Most of the bigger animals, if we're doing a thorough checkup, they're usually under anesthesia. Some of 'em are trained for a voluntary injection. If not, we dart them with the anesthetic agents. You're often darting at animals that are not sitting still for you, and sometimes from long distances. I've missed, yeah. I've had a gorilla stand back waiting for it. I shot the dart, and he literally knocked it out of the air as it was coming toward him."

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