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Ultrasonography is a routine diagnostic procedure used for assessing soft tissue characteristics in the human and veterinary medical fields of ophthalmology, cardiology, neurology, nephrology, obstetrics, oncology and orthopaedics. Because various forms of ultrasonography have existed for more than 50 years, it is surprising that this technology has only recently been applied to the study and management of wildlife species (Hildebrandt & Göritz, 1998; Hildebrandt et al., 2003). Nonetheless, there already is enough evidence making it clear that ultrasonography, combined with other technologies, can address issues that directly impact the health and reproductive welfare of wildlife species. This chapter focuses on the relevance of this technique for assisting in the assessment of medical and reproductive health in the giant panda.
The struggle to propagate and maintain viable wild animal populations in captivity is often related to information gaps that limit our ability to develop breeding and health strategies that are species appropriate. As demonstrated throughout this book, the giant panda presents some significant challenges to ex situ managers, which are exacerbated by a lack of basic biological knowledge about the species. Ultrasonographical studies are helping fill these physiological and anatomical voids by allowing the:
characterisation of reproductive tract morphology;
description of reproductive events;
monitoring of foetal development;
documentation of progression and treatment of pathologies.
Ultrasonography is also playing a significant role in developing and using artificial insemination (AI), which plays a critical role in the genetic management of this species (see Chapters 20 and 21).