A heart rate monitor beeped steadily as the 1,000-pound zebra slept.
A cloth was draped over her eyes, and her head rested on a bale of hay. Dr. Jennifer D'Agostino asked for a status update.
“Heart rate's at 84,” veterinary technician Liz McCrae said. “She's taking nice, deep breaths.”/p>
When a Grevy's zebra has hoof trouble, finding and fixing the problem takes more than a quick checkup. Grevy's zebras are known for their aggressive nature.
“She could kill you if she kicked you,” said D'Agostino, director of veterinarian services at the Oklahoma City Zoo. “They're not domesticated. They're not used to being around people.”
Alleviating pressure on an injured hoof requires anesthesia and a team of experts.
A couple months ago, Zephra the zebra suffered laminitis, which is general inflammation in the hoof, D'Agostino said. Laminitis can be triggered by a host of causes: heat, a virus, diet. The zebra received a shoe to alleviate the pressure on her hoof.
But then she started walking with an abnormal gait. Keepers noticed her hoof was misshapen.
“She was trying to walk without her foot,” D'Agostino said. “She was trying to hop on three legs.”
A pocket of fluid was discovered inside her hoof, probably as a result of the laminitis, D'Agostino said. The abscess is dangerous because it's close to the bone inside Zephra's foot.
“There's no where for it to go or expand,” D'Agostino said. “It's building up pressure, pressure, pressure and it's excruciating pain.”
Zephra has been immobilized for hoof treatments four of five times, D'Agostino said. Her most recent treatment was Tuesday.
D'Agostino and her team were joined by farrier Dee Corley, who is based at Red Rock Stables in Oklahoma City. She's been the zoo's equine podiatrist for 16 years. Her tan, worn chaps are nearly twice as old.
Corley hunched over Zephra's front right leg and used a file to shave away bits of hoof.
“Look right here,” Corley said excitedly, pointing out imperfections to D'Agostino. “Right here. It's right here.”
D'Agostino wheeled in a portable X-ray machine and strapped on a full-length, leopard-print apron with lead lining. They propped the zebra's foot over the X-ray pad to snap the photos. After each shot, D'Agostino and Corley hunkered down in front of a computer screen and examined the black and white image.
Corley ground off about an inch of Zephra's hoof. Flies swarmed around a discarded bandage nearby.
After enough filing, poking and examining, Corley wiped sweat off her brow and dabbed the foreheads of the animal keepers to lighten the mood.
D'Agostino lathered a paste of iodine and sugar onto the zebra's hoof — iodine to keep it clean, sugar to draw out the fluid. Everything was wrapped in layers of gauze and tape, and in less than an hour, the procedure was over.
Hope for the hoof
One of the people helping treat Zephra is Dustin Devine, an equine surgeon and assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. He has visited the zebra and has evaluated radiographs emailed from D'Agostino.
“It looks like there may be something still going on,” Devine said. “We're not out of the woods yet.”
Treating an animal like Zephra can be challenging because of her wild nature, Devine said. Horses can receive hoof treatments more frequently and don't need to be anesthetized for routine care.
D'Agostino put the zebra on pain medicine and antibiotics. She'll do a culture of the fluid to see exactly what's ailing the animal.
Zephra's movement is restricted for now. She's improving and ready to get out of the barn, D'Agostino said. The hope is that the abscess will burst, and the unwanted fluid will leak out of the top of her hoof.
This week, Zephra likely will be immobilized again for another bandage change and evaluation, D'Agostino said.
Eventually, the zebra's shoes will come off, Corley said.
She thinks this is the first time a Grevy's zebra at the Oklahoma City Zoo has worn shoes.
“To shoe one is highly unusual,” she said. “ ... It's a very interesting case and I'm very proud.”