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Walk on the wild side

Tigard woman spends her days treating the Oregon Zoos animal kingdom


by: TIMES PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - A green iguana tries to take a bite out of Margot Montis finger as she examines him. Monti has treated all 2,000 animals at the Oregon Zoo many times and says its easy to get attached to the wild crittersMargot Monti’s calendar is filling up.

Today she plans to spend some quality time giving physical examinations to a horde of mandrills.

Next week she will trim the nails of 77 large Egyptian fruit bats.

Down the hall from her office, a feisty iguana is fighting off a fungal infection.

It’s all in a day’s work for the Oregon Zoo’s resident Doctor Doolittle.

For the past 19 years, the Tigard resident has worked at the Oregon Zoo, first as a zookeeper and then as a well-respected veterinary technician in charge of caring for each animal, giving physical exams, taking blood samples, performing surgeries and more.

And with more than 2,000 animals at the Oregon Zoo, Monti has plenty of patients to keep her busy throughout the day.

“It really varies,” she said. “Some days we could see one animal or maybe none, then the next day, we’ll see hundreds.”

Vet technicians are the nurses of the veterinary world, and it’s Monti’s job to work with zookeepers and the zoo’s veterinarians to administer care.

It’s a dream come true for Monti, who has worked with animals her entire life at veterinary clinics across the country.

“It is something I have known I wanted to do all my life,” Monti said. “I have always been really fascinated about what is out there in the natural world. Every time I turn around, there is something new.”

Her love of nature began, she said, when she was a young girl growing up in upstate New York.

“When I was 2 or 3 years old, my dad caught a frog for me to carry home, and I was so excited,” she said. “I held on to it really tight because it was really slimy, and by the time we got home, it was dead. It was really sad, and I felt awful. That was the beginning of the learning experience for me.”

From then on, Monti has worked to heal sick and injured animals. Growing up, Monti would bring home birds with broken wings. In college, Monti studied wildlife biology and volunteered doing wildlife rehabilitation, nursing songbirds back to health, raising baby squirrels and — for a few days — taking care of a rather angry raccoon.

“My parents never let me have dogs and cats growing up, so when I got older, things went a little crazy,” she joked.

Very 'Apollo 13'

by: TIMES PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Monti examines a tortoises X-ray during a check up at the Oregon Zoo. Monti started her career at the Oregon Zoo as a zookeeper before becoming a veterinary technician.In the treatment room at the zoo’s year-old Veterinary Medical Center, Monti examines a green iguana with a skin infection.

The unhappy iguana snaps at her, trying to take a bite out of her finger as she talks.

Monti pays it no mind as she clutches the cold-blooded critter in her arm. She’s used to him.

“He’s gotten me before,” she said. “I wasn’t fast enough.”

The iguana has been a resident of the zoo’s veterinary hospital for more than a year, after coming from a pet store that was shut down for inhumane practices. The lizard had a nasty fungal infection all over his body, Monti said.

She and the rest of the veterinary staff have been treating him back to health, and he will eventually go on display at the zoo’s African Rainforest exhibit.

But feeling better has done little to improve the animal’s mood.

“He’s just evil,” Monti said, putting him into a temporary enclosure in the veterinary hospital’s main examination room.

It’s a giant room — large enough to fit a polar bear in — that they use to treat animals, she said.

The Veterinary Medical Center, which Monti and the rest of the veterinary team helped design, in many ways is similar to your neighborhood veterinary clinic.

And that models works with many of the center's patients, as well, Monti said.

“There is a lot of extrapolation,” Monti explained. “Most of the literature on veterinary medicine is geared toward domestic animals, so we have to work very closely with other zoos and colleagues all over the world.

“It’s very ‘Apollo 13’ in some ways. Here is what we have, what can we do with it and how do we do what we need to do? That’s one of the fun parts of my job is figuring that out.”

Sometimes, when the zoo doesn’t have the proper equipment to treat an animal, Monti said, the medical team will work with other zoos or hospitals to treat the patient.

When one of the zoo’s Amur tigers, Czar, was diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s, zoo officials didn’t have the ability to treat him with radiation, so every week for a month Monti anesthetized the giant cat and he was taken to Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin for treatment.

Easy to get attached

by: TIMES PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Monti and the rest of the veterinary medical staff helped design the zoos Veterinary Medical Center which opened at the zoo last year.Working with the same patients every day, Monti said it’s not hard to get attached to the animals.

When the zoo had wolves at its Alaska Tundra exhibit, Monti and a few other employees worked doing socialization with them.

“We would actually go into the enclosure, and we would howl with them,” she said. “It was really fun, and it allowed us to give them eye drops and take blood samples and things that we normally wouldn’t be able to do.”

When animals die, Monti and the veterinary team perform a necropsy — the animal equivalent of an autopsy — to investigate what happened.

“We get very attached to them, it is hard to say goodbye,” she said.

Most recently, the zoo lost Coco, a 60-year-old chimpanzee and the zoo’s oldest resident, who was euthanized the same day a new baby elephant, Lily, was born.

“By the time we finished her necropsy, we were all a bit punchy,” she said. “But it’s alright, as long as you don’t have to do something like that every day.”

Coco was going blind, likely suffered a stroke and in constant pain from arthritis.

“She had a lot of problems, and she was obviously uncomfortable,” Monti said. “In situations like that, it’s the best thing that you can do for her.”

Along with Monti’s regular patients, the zoo also receives animals from around the world. Many are on loan from other zoos to be used for breeding, but others such as the iguana or a pair of 5-month-old emaciated cougars are brought in by law enforcement or other agencies for treatment.

“All of them come through here,” Monti said. “It can get pretty busy.”

Monti treated the cougar cubs, which were found Jan. 24 orphaned near Missoula, Mont. The cubs were treated at the zoo before they were sent this week to their new, permanent home at the Chattanooga Zoo in Tennessee.

'Love the variety'

by: TIMES PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - For 19 years, Tigards Margot Monti has treated the Oregon Zoos animals, including this green iguana, back to perfect health.In a high stress job involving the care of endangered animals, Monti said work can be hectic and filled with poltics, but she wouldn’t give it up for anything.

“I love the variety,” Monti said. “I come in every morning, and I have no idea what I am going to do. Some days I beg for office days to do paperwork, but then I get over it and want to get back to doing other stuff.”

A lot of Monti’s job involves examining blood and fecal samples from animals. Every animal gets its feces checked once a year, Monti said, while physical examinations happen every other year.

“You can tell a lot about an animal that way,” she said. “Everything they are eating and what is going on inside them, it’s all there.”

Monti said there is one key difference between her job as a veterinary technician and a keeper.

“A keeper shovels the poop,” she said. “A vet tech looks at it under a microscope.”




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