Academy of Sciences anoconda, iguana get checkup

January 31, 2011 7:23:28 PM PST
There are 38,000 animals and 900 different species at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, but just one veterinarian, so he has to be ready for almost anything.

"Anaconda's do eat lizards, however our anaconda has only really ever had mammalian prey for its whole life, so it doesn't really seem to recognize the iguana as a food item," aquatic biologist Brian Freiermuth said.

Just before the iguana and snake moved in together over two years ago, the academy staff decided the anaconda needed a medical exam. It was a challenge because she is a constrictor and likes to wrap around things, or in some cases, people. The exam lasted only a few seconds. The vet got a quick look and the snake was pronounced healthy and strong -- so strong she had wrapped herself around one of the biologist's arms.

Now, two years later, it is time for another check up. This time the staff is hoping it will be easier. During the last few months, Freiermuth has been getting the anaconda used to being touched by tongs. So when it's time for the grab she is pretty calm.

"An individual anaconda is probably big and strong enough to kill an adult person like myself?but when you have so many people involved, the odds are very slim," Freiermuth said.

Once the snake is out of the exhibit she is measured. She is now almost 14 feet long.

She is a lot calmer this time around, so veterinarian Freeland Dunker can do a complete exam from head to tail.

"Then just work your way down, kind of pushing on the belly to see if there's any masses or things that might be of concern," Dunker said.

The final step is a blood test, tricky because Dunker cannot see the vein. But the snake hardly seems to mind.

"We share all this information with other institutions as far as blood values, to establish what is normal for anacondas," Dunker said.

Next it is the iguana's turn.

"He's a little bit feistier than the anaconda, but smaller fortunately," Freiermuth said.

The iguana is so feisty he has to be completely anesthetized for his check up.

"I'm just palpating the abdomen for masses," Dunker said. "He feels great. I mean he's really good. This was a rescue animal that we got when he was about this big."

The iguana was about a year old when he came to the academy. He had been kept as a pet and suffered from bone disease because of a bad diet.

"His spine was bent, his legs were crooked," Dunker said.

Now he is six years old and X-rays show he has recovered and growing normally.

"I'm basically just looking for is his leg mobile," Dunker said. "Does he have full range of motion? Are there any erosions or abrasions on his pads?"

The iguana gets a clean bill of health and finally moves to the deluxe recovery area -- a plastic box with a special heater to keep him comfortable while he comes to.

Both the iguana and the anaconda are safely back in their exhibit now, ignoring each other, but delighting visitors. Coming up in May, the Academy of Sciences will have a new exhibit with more giant snakes and lizards.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney