Infrared thermography (IRT), or thermal imaging, is a method which uses a specialized camera to detect changes in surface temperature. Previously used widely within the agriculture industry, IRT is gaining interest by many zoological facilities due to its non-invasive nature. IRT has been found to provide valuable information about potential medical issues, reproductive status, and thermoregulation abilities.
Thermal imaging can be used to detect surface temperature changes which result from changes in blood flow. These changes in blood flow can provide key insights. Work to date suggest that IRT is particularly useful in medical imaging, for example, diagnosing and monitoring injuries and disease. It also assists with studies of physiology and disease, and detecting estrus, in particular in species in which there are limitations of hormone analysis for distinguishing pregnancy.
Thermal imaging is incorporated into African Lion Safari's veterinary care as an additional tool to assess potential medical conditions in several species. Other current research projects utilizing IRT include monitoring estrus in rhino and investigating thermoregulation mechanisms in Asian elephants.
Future studies will be focused on using thermography to assist in monitoring estrus in cheetah and elephant, distinguishing outcome of artificial insemination, and monitoring reproductive events. For example, by developing novel methods in which birthing date can be predicted in elephants using changes in the surface temperature of mammary glands. Additional future studies include the use of IRT to determine the viability of eggs and incubation patterns prior to hatch.
In combination with behavioural observations, African Lion Safari utilizes IRT to assess the presence or absence of thermal windows across different ambient temperatures while our Asian elephants enjoy their forested land.
IRT is used to monitor joint health and inflammation in all our giraffe. This is done on a weekly basis as a wellness check and allows African Lion Safari to detect any signs of inflammation before clinical signs present themselves.
Thermal images of African Lion Safari's Greater one-horned rhino are obtained weekly to pair with fecal hormone results in order to match changes in the thermal images with different stages of estrus.