Surgical interventions in free ranging wild animals in their natural environment

Keyhole surgery (laparoscopic cholecystectomy) being performed on an Asiatic black bear rescued from an illegal bile farm in Vietnam, to remove its seriously disease gallbladder. Watch the video here

Surgery of wild animals that need to be returned to the wild demands the highest levels of surgical expertise, as animals have to be 100% fit to survive in the wild, avoid predators or catch prey. A peregrine falcon that is only 95% as good as before surgery will almost certainly not survive when returned to the wild. These animals are supremely athletic, and a tiny drop in flying ability will make the difference between catching enough birds to survive and starving to death. These patients need a level of orthopaedic surgery success when operating on bone fractures that is much higher than that needed in human surgery.

Unfortunately, in many cases the surgical equipment and expertise available in many countries wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres is quiet low, not due to lack of goodwill, but simply due to financial constraints. This can lead to animals being euthanased that would under better surgical treatment be suitable for release to the wild, or results in crippled animals that stay in small cages in captivity for many years. These wild born animals are not adapted to captivity like zoo born animals, and suffer chronic stress, and may have a poor quality of life cooped up in a small cage for many years, despite the cares best efforts and intentions.

Even with the best surgical care, not all animals can be returned to the wild. There are charities that do manage to keep animals such as bears that have lost limbs due to traps and snares, nt long term captivity at high levels of animal welfare, with plenty of space, natural enclosures and enrichment, although many of these patients do need periodic ongoing veterinary care, as limb stumps may be predisposed to trauma, even under the best circumstances.

   

a) A grey seal recovering in a rehabilitation centre in Scotland after the surgical removal of its ruptured eye. The fact that these animals spend most of their time in water means that surgical wounds need to heal quickly, to minimise their stress at being kept out of water. Wounds also need to be waterproof to prevent water entering the wounds and causing severe infections. b) Orthopaedic surgical repair of a fractured leg in a wild Golden eagle, using an external fixator. Rapid and anatomically accurate healing is essential if these birds are to be able to be released back to the wild, as they need to be 100% fit to catch their prey.

Saving one animal may not change the world, but surely for that one animal the world will change forever!