The keeper has the not-so-glamorous job of sifting through piles of poop looking for what’s left of your water bottle that’s causing digestive alarm.
And the animal might need emergency surgery to avoid a blockage if the object doesn’t come out in the end.
Just ask Estrella the komodo dragon.
She swallowed a blue rubber water bottle with a metal carabiner. Estrella was rushed to the animal hospital in July 2020 for an emergency endoscopy.
But removing it all was difficult because the carabiner was broken. Dr. Gwen Myers, Zoo Miami’s chief of animal health, said the sharp edge of the metal ring made removing it through the esophagus tricky.
So the surgical team cut open Estrella and removed the bottle. It took a month for the giant lizard to recover.
Zoo Miami has a solution to what’s happening.
“Stop throwing things into the animals’ enclosures,” said the zoo’s ambassador, Ron Magill.
And stop dropping your valuables near them, too — and if you do, let a worker know immediately, the zoo says.
The problem of human possessions getting swallowed by animals has become so troubling recently that the West Kendall attraction is renovating the alligator habitat to add a catch screen, to block your new iPhone 13 from going down a gator’s gullet.
The zoo has also removed all of the rubber mulch that was used throughout the park because it had become a part of the animals’ diet.
A handful of mulch was just found inside a hyena named Maxi when the crew gave her a regular exam this month.
Another problem: guests throwing coins into animal pools as if they were wishing fountains. Coins pose the risk of metal toxicity.
“Please come to the zoo to appreciate our animals,” Myers said, “and respect them by being aware of the danger of something being thrown in or falling into the enclosure.”
CELLPHONES, WATER BOTTLES AND MORE
So what becomes of all the items swallowed, lodged in or pooped out of animals?
Let’s put it this way: You’re not getting back your phone, not that you would want the smelly thing returned anyway.
The zoo has a growing collection of hundreds of undigested possessions. Sunglasses. Rocks. And kids’ toys — there are even two plastic alligators retrieved from, you guessed it, alligators.
The collection is meant to educate visitors on what happens when animals eat stuff they shouldn’t be eating. In the collection: a coin with a hole in it after it went through an alligator’s digestive system.
Then there are the visitors who deliberately throw things into a habitat.
Signs that say “Do Not Feed the Animals” don’t only refer to food as we know it. Animals are “indiscriminate feeders” and don’t know the difference between food and a hazard.
Myers said that most people don’t “do it to cause malice,” but animals could suffer if they eat something other than the food provided to them.
Meanwhile, the common “Do Not Feed” signs will soon be enhanced with digital boards.
“I am so disappointed that people are not reading these signs,” Magill said.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF AN ITEM GOES INTO AN ENCLOSURE?
So, you just dropped something into an animal enclosure by accident.
What do you do now? Report it immediately, the zoo says.
Sometimes a zookeeper can retrieve your keys or coins by using a grabbing tool or moving an animal to another space. And if that isn’t possible and the item gets swallowed, medical staff can start monitoring an animal for digestive changes.
“We take the watch-and-see approach,” Myers said. “We are just holding our breath until we see it coming out the other end.” But keep in mind: If an animal ingests your item, consider it lost, Myers said.
The same goes if you see someone throwing something.
Myers said that intentionally “harassing an animal” could result in criminal charges. At the least, a person can be asked to leave the zoo, Myers said. “The laws are in place to protect the animals.”
WHAT DID THE ANIMALS SWALLOW?
▪ Strangest item — Toss-up between a hearing aid and a cellphone
▪ Largest item — Collapsible water bottle with carabiner
▪ Smallest item — Batteries and coins
▪ Most difficult surgery — Estrella’s operation in July 2020 to remove a water bottle
▪ Most common item — Coins and pacifiers