Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Operation tiger: 27 stone zoo animal requires police escort as surgeons remove rugby ball-sized tumour


Out cold: Amba on the operating table

She tips the scales at 27st and she’s perfectly capable of biting your head off should she happen to get upset.

On top of that, she’d been feeling a bit tetchy lately due to a crippling pain in her gut. So here’s a question not many surgeons will face in their career: just how do you remove a tumour the size of a rugby ball from the belly of a sleeping tiger?
Answer: very carefully indeed.

That was the challenge facing animal and medical experts when they devised a plan to get Amba the 12-year-old tiger to the operating table from her home in a wildlife park ten miles away.

It involved a vet, a tailor-made steel cage, a heavily escorted trip up a motorway, plus armed guards and police on standby. Crucially, you may think, it also involved enough anaesthetic to guarantee she wouldn’t suddenly wake up wondering where she was.

But less than a week after the life-or-death surgery was completed, Amba came back... well... like a tiger.

The remarkable fusion of logistic and surgical operations was devised to investigate why Amba, a star attraction at Shepreth wildlife park and conservation centre in Hertfordshire, was beginning to look unusually large.

To mimic her natural diet, she is often bulk fed on up to around 3st of meat in one sitting, and can thus appear bloated. When the swelling failed to subside, however, it spelled trouble.

The park’s consultant vet, Peter Aylmer, enlisted the help of Cambridge University Veterinary School. Surgery seemed inevitable.

Full recovery: Amba is as playful as a kitten after recuperating from her operation

Now came a problem – how to get her there. Amba was encouraged into an enclosure at the park and allowed to rest. Then she was shot with a tranquilliser dart and carried into a specially commissioned steel crate, which was loaded into a van.

At Cambridge, Amba was lifted on to an operating table and spread out in roughly the same shape as a tiger-skin rug, if she’ll pardon the analogy.

The haggis-like object in the main picture is a weighted cushion placed to stop her rolling off the table. The machine and tubing at her head is the equipment supplying anaesthetic.

First job was to drain the fluid that had effectively put a tank in the tiger. There was more than 30 litres of it – nearly the same as the fuel capacity of a Fiat 500.

After borrowing a large X-ray plate from nearby Addenbrooke’s Hospital, it became clear that Amba had a massive tumour in her abdomen. It was causing the blockage that created the fluid, which, in turn, was stopping her from breathing properly. After two hours of surgery, it was removed.

Lead surgeon Jackie Demetriou admitted afterwards it was ‘certainly a challenge’.
Tiger anatomy is much the same as that of a domestic cat. The difference is that post-op after-care for a slightly sore tiger is clearly out of the question.

Yesterday, however, Amba was showing little sign of needing it. Reunited with her fellow hybrid Rana, who waited anxiously beside her as she recuperated, she appears to have made a full recovery.

Shepreth animal manager Rebecca Willers said: ‘She’s back to her normal size now – and running around like there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her.’

source: dailymail

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