Oklahoma City Zoo resumes shows following dolphin sickness

Tuesday, October 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Officials at the Oklahoma City Zoo said they don't know why a certain bacteria has killed three dolphins there in the past three years or whether it was to blame for the recent sickness of a young dolphin.

The Oklahoma City Zoo resumed its Aquaticus shows Monday after its 4-month-old Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, Lily, responded well to antibiotics.

Lily, born just more than four months ago to Sandi, a 15-year-old dolphin, appeared to be doing well until Friday.

Trainers on Friday noticed Lily had stopped nursing and had become lethargic. Lily's condition worsened throughout the day, and the zoo's staff gave her an antibiotic injection.

While three dolphins at the zoo have died of the Streptococcus zooepidemicus bacteria since 1998, Dr. Joe Alexander, a veterinarian who helps take care of the animals, said he could not test for the bacteria in Lily, who is wild.

"If you were to try to handle her to take a blood sample, you would run the risk of sending her into shock because she has never been handled by a person," he said. "We felt like that was more of a risk than to wait and see what would happen with the antibiotics."

Lily reacted positively to the injection, appearing to again breathe normally and resume normal antics like diving to the bottom of the pool.

"There were some sleepless nights and some anxious moments, but as she got better, everybody relaxed," Alexander said.

The Aquaticus exhibit lost a 5-year-old dolphin named Harley to the bacteria shortly after Lily was born.

Two others, Sally and Turbo, died from the illness in 1998.

"But we have learned a lot from those episodes, and I believe the zoo is responding to the situation very responsibly,"

Alexander said.

After the 1998 deaths, zoo officials closed the exhibit in 1999 and spent more than $212,000 renovating the zoo's dolphin pool and hiring water-related specialists to make sure the dolphins' living environment was contamination-free.

Alexander said Lily's illness was a shock, especially since he still doesn't know what her problem was.