Nala is a giant anteater who lives at Edinburgh Zoo, and she has the first recorded case of diabetes in her species. “Keepers first discovered something was wrong when Nala was losing weight despite eating the same amount, or sometimes even more, than usual,” explained Stephanie Mota, the resident veterinary surgeon at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), in a statement.
“We carried out a full health check under general anaesthetic, running lots of tests and found that Nala has type one diabetes.”
So what do you do when you have a giant anteater in need of some insulin? When a human has type one diabetes, they’re likely in for a life of regular injections, insulin pumps, and blood sugar monitoring. That’s true, too, for cats and dogs, both of whom can develop the condition.
But a giant anteater? That’s another thing entirely: they don’t have any fingers to prick, so the human solution is out; they’re way bigger than a cat, so you can’t just pick them up and give them a shot; and they’re not exactly known as humans’ best friends either, so you can’t just tell them to “sit!” while you check their blood.
“Our keepers did an amazing job quickly training Nala to take an insulin injection every day but the challenge for us was how to continuously monitor her blood glucose levels to ensure she was receiving the perfect dose,” said Mota. “Taking bloods daily was not an option.”
So the keepers opted for a different solution: a wearable glucose monitor.
“We did initially start monitoring the levels through urine samples,” Mota continued, “but we decided to contact some companies who produced human glucose monitors to try and streamline the process, and find a way which would be the least invasive for Nala.”
“Dexcom, leading providers of this technology, kindly donated the monitor to our charity and we were able to apply it during one of her training sessions, which now allows us to check her blood glucose levels through an app remotely.”
Now fitted with her brand-new blood monitor, Nala is not just super-fashionable in giant anteater terms, but she’s also helping her keepers learn how to treat diabetic animals in the future.
“Due to her lovely personality, Nala is the ideal candidate for this technology,” said Mota. “[This] helps us, and her amazing team of keepers, manage her condition in the best possible way.”