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For Oklahoma City Zoo animals, debris can be deadly

An alligator at the Oklahoma City Zoo died because seven water bottles were jammed into its stomach. Visitor trash, windblown litter and wishing coins cause the biggest problem.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Modified: August 4, 2010 at 6:11 am •  Published: August 4, 2010

An alligator at the Oklahoma City Zoo died unexpectedly, but what veterinarians found inside his stomach was even more unexpected: seven plastic water bottles.

Zookeepers continuously pick up debris that blows or falls into animal exhibits, but this was a bit of a shock, said Jennifer D'Agostino, veterinary services director for the zoo.

"Animals get sick," D'Agostino said. "It happens. But this is something they get sick from that's totally preventable. Anything we can prevent, we want to prevent."

Using an arthroscope, D'Agostino and her staff checked the rest of the gators' guts for indigestible debris in the past few weeks. They found coins, bottle caps, more plastic bottles and even a child's shoe. One alligator had swallowed a little plastic alligator.

They have one more alligator to check.

The veterinarians pulled out the small items, like coins. But they're still trying to figure out how to pull out the big things without major surgery, D'Agostino said.

The trash will have to come out eventually. The seven water bottles found inside the dead alligator created a blockage that prevented the animal from digesting his food correctly, D'Agostino said.

Eventually the blockage became infected, and that infection spread to the rest of his body.

Some litter blows into the exhibits, D'Agostino said. A few items end up in the exhibit on purpose. Most of the coins are thrown into the pond by visitors making wishes. Some items are dropped accidentally; other things are thrown out of ignorance or malice.

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