Oregon Zoo’s head veterinarian Carlos Sanchez is gazing intently at a monitor in the zoo’s Veterinary Medical Center. On the screen there’s an eerily beautiful radiograph of a bat, made during an exam earlier that day. He traces his finger along the delicate bones in the bat’s wing, pointing out an old fracture that has long since healed. “As you can imagine, these bones are very thin,” he says. “So sometimes just by flapping hard, they can break the bones.”
But, Sanchez adds, bats also have a great generative capability, and this 18-year-old bat is in great shape for her age. He regularly uses radiographs for routine exams and preventive medicine, like noticing when an animal is starting to develop arthritis.
“Sometimes we are able to detect cancer at an early stage where we can do something about it.”
Besides their important medical value, Sanchez also loves these X-ray images purely for their aesthetics. “When you see a bat radiograph,” he says, “it’s just like looking at a piece of art. Sometimes we see the nails of a lion and just looking at the radiograph. It still amazes us on a daily basis.”
One of his favorite things is comparing the radiographs of very different animals. For instance, when he looks at the wings of a bat he notes “the fingers are so thin and spread out… and then you compare it with a bear and you see these massive digits.”
“I mean, I love it,” Sanchez says. “I wish sometimes I could print them in a big size and hang it on the walls because they are so unique and they’re so majestic.”