A familiar face has returned to the National Aviary’s Wetlands habitat. After several weeks of intensive nursing care and treatment for common age-related conditions, Joanie the Wattled Curassow is thriving in her Wetlands home, where she has been a beloved and recognizable fixture for over 20 years. A combination of innovative customized medicine and dedicated nursing care, including hand-fed specially prepared meals, helped make her triumphant return possible.
Wattled Curassows, an endangered species native to the Amazon basin, are large, turkey-like birds with personalities as bold as the signature glossy curlicue feathers atop their heads. Joanie possesses a natural curiosity about her surroundings and the birds and people in it, and is quick to investigate newcomers to her home in the Wetlands at the National Aviary. She is playful and a near-constant presence in the Wetlands, where she has ruled the roost for over 20 years.
Like all 550 birds at the National Aviary, Joanie is routinely monitored by experts who are attuned to the birds’ personalities and behaviors. One day, Joanie was alert and active, and the next she was lethargic and even skipped breakfast. Aviculturists recognized immediately that Joanie was not feeling well.
Joanie was brought to the Intensive Care Unit in the National Aviary’s Avian Hospital right away, where veterinarians performed comprehensive tests. The diagnosis was concerning: Joanie was in kidney failure and had an intestinal condition. These conditions, while common among aging birds, have the potential to cause a patient to become very ill when they occur simultaneously.
“We were guarded about Joanie’s prognosis, but we felt that with high-level care she could recover. We wanted to give her every chance to get well,” said Dr. Pilar Fish, the National Aviary’s Senior Director of Zoological Advancement and Avian Medicine. “Joanie’s comprehensive wellness strategy included not only customized medicine and dedicated nursing care to treat her physical conditions. We also care for her overall wellbeing, which includes meeting her social needs.”
Veterinary staff created a custom ICU habitat for Joanie, bringing in plants, flowers, leaves, shrubs, branches, and logs to mimic her habitat in the Wetlands. Wattled Curassows have a diet high in fruit, and over the years staff have come to learn Joanie’s favorite tropical fruits. To encourage Joanie to eat, her caregivers took turns preparing her favorite foods, handfeeding her pineapple ice cubes, papaya smoothies, and slushies made of mango. She was given a new combination of human-grade medicines to treat the intestinal condition. With time, her condition improved. Her fever broke, she regained her appetite, and glimpses of her personality started to shine through.
“When Joanie returned to the Wetlands, she immediately fell back into her normal routine, brightening our days with her playful personality. Her most recent wellness checkup showed her prognosis has improved greatly, and we feel she is set up to stay healthy for the long-term,” Dr. Fish said. “All 550 animals who call the National Aviary home receive this level of customized care for their overall wellbeing. Even during a pandemic our staff are going above and beyond to provide extraordinary care for our flock, because every bird deserves the kind of care Joanie received.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the National Aviary’s operations, Dr. Fish and her team continue to break new ground and develop innovative approaches for treating complex medical conditions in birds. The treatment Joanie received is being shared with veterinarians, wildlife centers, and other zoological institutions around the world.
The National Aviary has modified its operations in order to welcome back visitors responsibly, with enhanced safety protocols in place that align with CDC guidelines. Capacity restrictions continue to limit earned revenue. While the impact of the pandemic has been severe, the National Aviary has a plan in place to ensure animal care continues without compromise, and to ensure the Aviary’s long-term viability. The National Aviary’s plan for remaining viable through the pandemic includes the support of caring community members, who can help the Aviary continue to provide exceptional care for birds like Joanie by visiting the National Aviary or donating at aviary.org/donate.
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