Zoo & Aquarium News

Utica Zoo receives X-Ray Equipment


Something new at the Utica Zoo helped a tegu with backed-up goo, a beaver who needs to chew

Amy Neff Roth

Utica Observer-Dispatch

Utica Zoo staff, with help from Mohawk Valley Health System staff, took an X-ray of Tarova the tegu, a large lizard, on Thursday, April 22, 2021 using equipment donated by the health system. Tarova has a blockage in his intestines.

Tarova the tegu lives at the Utica Zoo. 

The poor lizard backed up with his own poo.  

What, oh what, could his zookeepers do?  

To treat him, they needed an inside view. 

But there’s no X-ray machine at the zoo. 

Well, MVHS came to the rescue 

Donating a piece of equipment or two 

So the vet can now track Tarova’s poo 

X-rays also showed the chest of a degu, 

A rodent who eats hay, maybe fescue,  

And the teeth that a beaver uses to chew 

They all turned out great and the staff yelled, “Yahoo!"

Now we can give our cockatoo, zebu and emu 

X-rays without ever leaving the zoo. 

This kind of breakthrough is long overdue!” 

It’s not that Tarova and the other zoo animals haven’t been getting the care they need, Executive Director Andria Heath said. 

Kathy Gargas, right, medical imaging operation manager for the Mohawk Valley Health System, instructs Utica Zoo staff on the proper technique to X-ray Tarova the tegu on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The health system donated the X-ray equipment, which it no longer needed, to the zoo, which didn't have any.

"It’s never that we didn’t do the X-rays that were required,” she said. “It might mean that we would take the animal to one of our partnering veterinarian practices.”  

Or sometimes, for larger animals, a vet would bring portable equipment to the zoo, she said. 

But the logistics got tricky and the timing slow during the 17 years the zoo went without its own X-ray machine, she said.  


The portable equipment, donated by the Mohawk Valley Health System on Thursday, can work for any animal in the zoo, even the 2,000-pound camels, Heath said. Now animals won’t have to take a road trip and are less likely to need anesthesia to get an X-ray, she said. 

“To have the equipment right on ground is better for the animals. … It’s great for the staff,” she said. “It’s another tool and level of expertise that our staff has gained.”  

It also helps the zoo meet another standard for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which the zoo joined in 2018, she said.  

Utica Zoo staff look at an X-ray of Captain Jack, a degu on April 22, 2021. The Mohawk Valley Health System donated used, analog X-ray equipment to the zoo, which hasn't had any for more than 17 years.

Anthony Dischiavi, administrative director of medical imaging, and Kathy Gargas, medical imaging operations manager, at the Mohawk Valley Health System not only delivered the equipment Thursday, but stayed to show zoo staff how to use it, helping to capture the first images of Tarova’s bowel obstruction, Mountain Jack the degu’s chest and the beaver’s teeth. 

“It was pretty awesome,” said Dischiavi, who’s hoping to go back to do more training when the zoo’s young red pandas need X-rays.  

A zoo board member had first asked Dischiavi if the health system had any extra X-ray equipment it could donate two years ago, he said. At the time, it didn’t.  

Mountain Jack, the degu, waits to get an X-ray at the Utica Zoo on April 22, 2021.

But last year, the health system was able to buy four new portable, digital X-ray machines to help out during the pandemic, he said. And Dischiavi contacted the zoo to see if staff wanted any of the no-longer-needed analog equipment.  

They did. “And off to the zoo we went,” Dischiavi said.  

The Mohawk Valley Health System delivered that equipment — for taking analog X-rays — on Thursday and health system staff taught zoo staff how to use it on Tarova, Mountain Jack the degu and Frances the beaver.   

Frances needs to get some dental work done, Dischiavi said. 

“We were all very, very surprised at how good the images came out,” he said.  

There was one little hiccup in the day for Dischiavi. He had asked the zoo not to bring any snakes for X-rays. Tegus aren’t snakes, but they are big lizards, getting as big as about 3 feet long, according to Heath.  

This X-ray image taken on April 22, 2021 shows the skull and teeth of Frances, one of the beavers at the Utica Zoo. Frances' top teeth have already fallen out. The X-ray, taken on equipment donated by the Mohawk Valley Health System, was needed because Frances must have more dental work done.

“It was a very docile animal,” Dischiavi conceded. “I did not get close. It was cool to see a lizard’s insides.”  

Tarova was given some barium, which shows white in the X-ray, so zoo staff will be able to monitor whether the barium moves and his constipation is clearing, Dischiavi said. 

Heath observed that it was a great day for the zoo. 

Let’s hope Tarova thinks so, too.

Amy Roth is the health and education reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. For unlimited access to her stories, please subscribe at the top of the uticaod.com homepage or activate your digital account today. Email Amy Roth at aroth@gannett.com.


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