An Ozteo Interview with Tony Nevin: The First Zoo Osteopath
An Ozteo Interview With
We at Ozteo were very excited for this interview with Tony. Tony Nevin is the first Zoo Osteopath. Tony also has a radio show on Corinium Radio called: “The Missing Link” www.coriniumradio.co.uk.
All of his shows are available on their Listen Again service, as well as via his websites.
Tony also runs the only workshops that introduce osteopaths to treating familiar problems on very unfamiliar patients, namely ELEPHANTS! These are bespoke 5 day extraveganzas and are guaranteed to blow your mind.
Here is what Tony had to say!
What led you to become an Osteopath?
Personal injury and some rather harsh and inappropriate physiotherapy in the UK led me to discover osteopathy, but not before I sustained some permanent damage from post surgical rehab exercises. At the time I didn’t know what osteopathy was, all I knew was that my body was screaming at me that what the physio’s were making me do was the right thing for my situation. One day I bumped into a friend whilst I was still using crutches to walk with. He asked me why I hadn’t been to see an osteopath, and the rest is history.
What steps did you have to do to become the Zoo Ost?
Initially I trained to become a “human” osteopath. Whilst at college my mind kept being drawn to the possibility of applying these new found skills to treat similar conditions in animals, and in particular megafauna. The opportunity to put this theory to the test came soon after graduating. A local TV station had got wind of some of my small animal work and wanted to film something more exciting. I set them the challenge of getting me into a zoo to treat anything the vet thought might benefit from osteopathic intervention. An hour later they came back to me with a short list of a chimp, tapir, and young elephant at Twycross Zoo in the Midlands, UK.
The vet, it turned out, had a great sense of humour and had basically set me up with the three most mischievous animals in their collection. My first professional contact with zoo animals was with a film crew in tow. The whole day was rather stressful, but did result in the keepers reporting an improvement with their charges, and that was the start of the real zoological work.
What animals have you treated so far?
To date I have treated more than 300 different species and subspecies of mammal, bird, and reptile, along with a few fish and amphibians. Patients have ranged from tiny rodents and bats right up to and including elephant, rhino, giraffe, great apes, big cats etc…
Most of my normal clinical week is taken up treating people, dogs, cats, and horses, with a weekly session of wildlife at a local wildlife hospital. This is interspersed with zoo, and overseas wildlife work, all of which stops me from ever being bored.
The list is continually being added to. I occasionally refer to the ships manifest on Noah’s Ark and list the few exceptions!
What is one of the best experiences?
One of my best experiences happened over a 7 year period. I treated a very young orphaned elephant calf, in Kenya, that was failing to recover from the effects of pneumonia. Elephants lack a cough reflex (which I was not aware of at the time), and her lungs were full of fluid. She was too large to be able to manually expel, as one can with a dog. I offered to try some reflex/trigger point work and lymphatic drainage techniques on her, which the vet sanctioned, with the comment that she would probably be dead in the morning in any case so anything you can offer is worth trying.
I performed a couple of minutes work on her, at the end of which she voided lots of foul smelling liquid from her lungs, got up and staggered about a bit before laying down again in the shade.
I went back to check on her a couple of days later and she charged me, putting me flat on my back before dancing again squeaking with pleasure. The staff at the wildlife centre thought this was hilarious and then explained that the orphans see a white face and associate it with needles (as all of the vets were white!).
I next met this elephant 7 years later when I was leading a group on my first ever elephant workshop. We were in Tsavo National Park East shadowing a group of orphaned elephant calves that were being slowly hacked back to the wild. Whilst at a watering hole we noticed a wild group of elephants making their way towards us in single file. The ranger in charge of looking after us informed me that the lead elephant was a previous orphan that they had named Wendi. I asked if she was around 7 years old, and he replied that she was. I then explained how I knew her. As she came closer he spoke to her. She stepped forward and then extended her trunk to sniff me. He told me to take the end of her trunk and gently breathe into it, which I did. She stood there for a minute and then began sniffing me from head to foot, her trunk dripping mucus all of the time. Then she shook her head and made some soft vocalisations. The ranger patted me on the back and said that she remembered me and that I could probably examine her if I wanted to. I did just that and this now wild elephant responded so amazingly as I checked her over and offered up small amounts of treatment to areas that she wanted contact over.
We spent about 30, minutes with her group of elephants, as they mingled with our orphan group before she signalled for her group to head off. She waited as they did and then shook her head and as she passed by me she deftly dropped her shoulder and gave me a little nudge that sent me back a couple of paces, before disappearing into the thick scrub with a few little squeaks from her trunk.
It was several minutes before I could compose myself to engage with my group. The whole experience was so intense and private, the crossing of the species divide.
Have you found any hurdles becoming a Zoo Osteopath?
When I went into that first zoo nearly 29 years ago I had no references that I could use, and no colleagues to liaise with on the subject. Everyone I contacted for help asked me to let them know what I found, and how I got on.
Health and safety was a little less stringent than it is today, and once I’d been into a few zoos the main hurdle I came across was keeper hostility to anything new. I was physically threatened on more than one occasion by staff. Ironically I was safer with most of the animals!
Gradually things changed, and I persevered with a softly, softly approach until one day I noticed that my work was actually being taken seriously.
It has been a long, and often lonely journey, and it hasn’t always turned out as one would like, but now I can honestly say it’s the best part of my work.
Any tips for Osteopaths wanting to treat or currently treating animals?
Always remember that most of our patients could kill or seriously injure us at any moment. Be grateful that they don’t, and always respect them. I make a point of ensuring that every patient (those that don’t require anaesthetising in order to treat) knows that I am acknowledging their body language. Sometimes they get so communicative that I’ll have horses point to where they want me to make contact. Some have facial expressions to die for. In many cases we are the first people to really engage with them and take the time to understand their specific problems. When they know you’re listening to them they really do open up, and some of the experiences are the best ones you’ll ever have (outside of the bedroom!).
Anything you have learned in your years of being an animal osteopath and a human one that you would like to share?
My animal work has helped me immensely with observation and palpation skills that I have transferred to my human clinics. Reading the more subtle unspoken signs as well.
But most of all I think that animals have taught me to respect what they are ready to release and let go of, and when a treatment session has come to an end. Again this has benefitted my human work as well.
Animals are great teachers, if we let them. They can make us better practitioners. I always feel very humble and privileged to be allowed to do what I do. Sadly I’ve met too many other physical therapy professionals that arrogantly dominate their animal patients. Ironically it makes for a harder day at the office, and the results are invariably poorer too.
One other thing I’ve learned. Never, ever, under any circumstances should you try to apply osteopathic treatment to a Drop Bear. I did once, and I’m still getting flash backs!
For further information, and to contact Tony regarding any of his animal workshops and courses, or to follow what Zoo Ost is up to