If you want to offer zoo animals a penny for their thoughts, Fresno Chaffee Zoo officials say to think again.
Lottie, the zoo's lone female siamang, became ill about two weeks ago after zoo officials say she swallowed a coin.
Siamangs are known for whooping jungle noises along with their climbing and jumping abilities, and 25-year-old Lottie is no exception. So when Lottie started acting lethargic, having diarrhea and losing weight, zoo officials knew there was a problem.
After running blood, urine and fecal tests, and taking X-rays, a zoo veterinarian discovered a small sphere at the bottom of Lottie's pelvis. Zoo officials say it's a coin, probably tossed into the siamangs' and orangutans' enclosure by a zoo patron who wanted to see the primates move around more.
Lottie may be among the smaller members of the ape family, but her significance to Fresno Chaffee Zoo is heightened because she gave birth to a son, Bahasa, six months ago. Her staying healthy is important to her offspring, since siamangs don't reach maturity until they are about 7 years old. She also has a 3-year-old son, Jambi.
Her mate, Biong, is active with the young siamangs, but the younger the baby is, the larger the mother's role, said Lyn Myers, a senior zookeeper, and there was concern that losing her could lead to serious problems -- possibly death -- for Bahasa.
"A week ago she would hardly move at all," Myers said. "She would just lie there."
Myers said Lottie rarely gets sick but "crashes quickly" when she does.
The coin is believed to have raised toxin levels in Lottie's blood, leading to her loss of appetite and other problems, said veterinarian Lewis Wright. It caused Lottie, a 20-pound Siamang, to lose four pounds, about 20% of her body weight.
Wright said if toxicity in her blood rises, it allows other infections or problems to occur more easily.
People tossing items into animal enclosures have been known to kill animals. This week, a hippo at a zoo in Lufkin, Texas, died after swallowing a child's ball. The ball obstructed its intestines.
As for Lottie, she has started to regain lost weight, and her health continues to improve thanks in part to a liquid diet that includes banana cream Pedialyte. She has been returned to her enclosure and is eating, climbing and swinging. She will be back on her regular diet of fruits and vegetables in about two weeks, Myers said.
"I am sure nobody was trying to hurt her, but this is something that was totally preventable," she said.
Zoo officials have not found any evidence that Lottie has passed the coin, so they believe it may still be in her colon. She has been known to swallow and pass coins before but never became so ill.
While infections and bacteria are difficult to control in a zoo setting, zoo officials can warn people about the dangers of throwing things into animal enclosures, said Lewis Greene, the zoo's director.
"This is really something that can kill our animals," he said. "If people don't do it, there is one less thing we have to combat."