These Little Piggies Went to the Vet 

Have you ever wondered how places like the Virginia Zoo manage their animal populations? Both of our female red river hogs, Mrembo and Tikiti recently visited our Animal Wellness Campus to receive birth control implants as part of their regular exams!  

Mrembo receiving her physical exam.

Our girls received a complete workup with each body system being assessed by our veterinarian. To ensure the checkup would run smoothly, the hogs were put under anesthesia while the vet team performed a complete blood panel, radiographs of the hogs’ chests, and abdominal ultrasounds. Their heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygenation, blood pressure, and temperature were monitored throughout the procedure as well! 

In addition to receiving a routine exam, the duo also had birth control implants surgically placed. Zoos like ours play a pivotal role in overseeing the populations of various species through reproductive management. Using birth control implants allows us to closely monitor the populations of our animals here at the Zoo. Many of our animals have committees or Species Survival Plans (SSPs) that decide if an animal is recommended for breeding or not, making birth control necessary in some cases. Additionally, birth control can be used in instances where the Zoo has space limitations and can’t accommodate large litters of offspring. Birth control may also be used to aid in medical management for an animal’s reproductive health. The birth control implant that our red river hogs received is temporary and will lose effectiveness after 2 years. When this time comes, the girls may be recommended to breed or our vet staff will replace their implant with a new one. 

Our veterinary intern, Dr. Lauren Novak, placing the birth control implant.

The decision to surgically implant birth control in Tikiti was based on a few different factors. Tiki is the mother of our juvenile red river hog, Cantaloupe (“Lou”), who was born in June 2022. After giving birth she presented with recurring mastitis, an infection in the mammary glands common in nursing mammals (including humans!). Because of this, it was deemed necessary to perform a partial mastectomy to prevent future infections and complications. Tiki has since fully recovered. Due to this procedure and her history of mastitis, she is not recommended to breed again. Tiki is a case where birth control is necessary to ensure the welfare of our animals that have experienced previous medical issues. 

The girls each received a clean bill of health and will continue to be monitored closely by their animal care team during their recovery. Our veterinary staff provides routine preventative health assessments to all our animals at the Virginia Zoo. This allows for many opportunities for guests to see procedures like the ones our red river hogs received. Zoo Tip: Visit the zoo in the early morning for a chance to see a veterinary procedure in action at the Animal Wellness Campus!