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Emil Dolensek

Emil Dolensek, 49, Veterinarian For Zoological Society, Is Dead

By GLENN FOWLER Published: February 9, 1990

Emil P. Dolensek, chief veterinarian of the New York Zoological Society, died of a melanoma Wednesday at his home on City Island in the Bronx. He was 49 years old.

For the last 20 years Dr. Dolensek was responsible for the well-being of the thousands of residents of the Bronx, Central Park, Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Zoos, the New York Aquarium and other operations of the society, including programs of Wildlife Conservation International in countries around the world.

In the last decade Dr. Dolensek devised means to increase the number of giant pandas in China by immobilizing animals in the wild through anesthesia so they can be artificially inseminated. In Africa, he used telemetry to track okapi, giraffe-like animals, in remote areas of Zaire to chart their behavior.

Dr. Dolensek also helped to discover the role of Vitamin E deficiency in animals as it relates to the prevention of diseases.

Improving Animal Reproduction

In 1985 Dr. Dolensek opened a $5 million Animal Medical Center at the Bronx Zoo that includes a network of holding pens, an emergency room, an intensive-care unit, laboratories, a high-ceilinged operating theater and an obstetrics ward to serve the zoo's 3,600-odd species.

There, Dr. Dolensek and his staff worked on sophisticated techniques to improve animal reproduction through sperm banks, embryo transplants and endocrinology.

He was a strong proponent of populating zoos with animals born in captivity, rather than capturing them from the wild.

'Some years ago zoos were seen as consumers of wildlife rather than producers - we were making little or no contribution to maintaining the variety of species,' he said, but today most of the animals in zoos no longer come from nature but are born in captivity.

Treating sick animals differs from treating sick humans, Dr. Dolensek once said, mainly because the animal cannot tell the doctor 'where it hurts.' Diagnosis of all but the most obvious maladies depends on laboratory tests, X-rays and other scientific means. An X-ray of a sick snake at the zoo, for example, revealed that the only thing wrong with it was that it had eaten another snake.

Dr. Dolensek's hospital at the Bronx Zoo also deals in preventive medicine. All new arrivals are examined, vaccinated and quarantined to prevent the introduction of diseases among the zoo's resident population.

Last year Dr. Dolensek was awarded the centennial gold medal of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society for his contributions in the field. He was a past president of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians.

Dr. Dolensek was a native of Traverse City, Mich, and received a bachelor's degree in zoology and a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine from Michigan State University. After service with animal hospitals in Stamford and Darien, Conn., he joined the New York Zoological Society in 1969.

He is survived by his wife, the former Barbara Burn; three sons, Christian and Ian, both of Palm Desert, Calif., and Philip, of City Island; his mother, Theresa Cosner of Kalamazoo, Mich., and a sister, Toni Gutfreund of Chicago.


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