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Why Go Digital?

An Overview of the Milwaukee County Zoo’s Animal Health Center and its Digital Imaging Needs

By Dr. Roberta Wallace, senior veterinarian, the Milwaukee County Zoo

Dr. Roberta Wallace, senior veterinarian

Dr. Roberta Wallace, senior veterinarian

The Milwaukee County Zoo’s Animal Health Center opened in 2003 as a state-of-the art animal healthcare facility, replacing an outdated and inadequate hospital that served the Zoo from 1960 to 2002. The building was made possible by a joint New Zoo II Capital Campaign run by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and the Zoo. The new facility had a larger and more hospital-like layout, a more central location in relation to the Zoo’s animals, and improved research facilities for our staff veterinarians and resident students. While all of these changes have helped us make great strides in the overall health of the Zoo’s animals, we still face deficiencies due to the ever-changing field of animal healthcare. 

By 2003, digital equipment, including radiographic, ultrasound and endoscopic equipment, was quickly becoming the norm within the human medical field. Doctors saw that digital equipment produced more accurate and quicker results than the analog process. As we were building our new animal hospital, however, there were still several unknowns surrounding digital equipment. Zoos were still using analog processes, like the film and liquid developer process to take X-rays because the equipment for the digital process was too costly to justify the unknown outcome.

Web-based record-keeping

As technology has progressed, digital equipment has become the most efficient and widely used process to conduct many procedures and most research with humans and animals alike. Larger zoos, such as the San Diego Zoo and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., have already upgraded to digital equipment, and several mid-sized zoos are planning to do so. Upgrades are needed to meet requirements of the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS). ZIMS is a comprehensive information system being developed to support a wide range of animal management and conservation activities. ZIMS will be Web-based and contain up-to-the-minute data that will allow free and easy exchange of information. 

Why veterinarians prefer digital X-rays

Dr. Wallace performs a medical procedure on a bonobo

Dr. Roberta Wallace and consultant Dr. James Sanger examine a bonobo.

They produce superior quality images in a faster time and take less storage space than an analog radiography system. Digital images appear instantaneously after being taken, whereas analog images take several minutes to develop and produce. With analog X-rays, deficiencies in the X-ray cannot be detected until it is developed, which typically takes several minutes. If for any reason the analog X-ray image is incorrect or the animal needs to be repositioned to get a clearer picture, another X-ray must be taken. This process can take several minutes and can greatly increase the time an animal is under anesthesia. Digital imaging allows us to see any adjustments that need to be made immediately. Digital imaging also allows us to adjust the brightness or contrast of the image to highlight certain areas, producing a more accurate and higher quality image. Also, digital images can be uploaded instantly and allow us to consult with colleagues worldwide. Digital Images also may allow the Zoo to participate more easily in certain research projects.