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African Lion Lazarus

Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital delivers veterinary care for a vast range of animals and the Hospital recently treated a most impressive visitor.

Male adult African Lion Lazarus underwent dental surgery at the Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital on Monday 8 January. Even Lions experience similar everyday dental issues that can affect humans, like a broken tooth! Keepers had noticed a fracture on one of his teeth, and just like the human kind, Lazarus underwent root canal therapy to prevent infection. We interviewed Wildlife Hospital Senior Veterinarian Dr Benn Bryant to get an insight as to how the surgery went.

Patient bio: Lazarus is a 17-year-old male, weighing approximately 185kg. He is in great physical shape for a big cat of his age.

Can you tell us about Lazarus’ dental procedure? Lazarus had root canal therapy, as well as a general health check, including physical examination and blood and urine sampling for laboratory testing. The duration of the procedure was approximately one hour. It went very well, and Lazarus is now back to his normal self – bright and hungry!

Who operated on Lazarus? Specialist Veterinary Dentist, Dr David Clarke undertook the surgery. Dr Clarke has supported Taronga for many years by making his specialist veterinary dental expertise available for treating these kinds of issues. Over the years he has treated lions, tigers, cheetah, African wild dogs, Tasmanian devils and spider monkeys for us.

What prompted the surgery? Lazarus’ Keepers had noticed he had unfortunately fractured one of his canine teeth. This had exposed the pulp canal (otherwise known as the tooth root canal; a tubular canal that runs up the centre of the tooth from the root and contains blood vessels and nerves). An exposed pulp canal is at risk of infection which can then travel down the tooth, setting up a painful and difficult-to-treat infection/abscess around the root of the tooth. Treatment to prevent this requires cleaning out and sterilising the pulp canal with specialised instruments (i.e. root canal therapy) and capping the tooth to seal it - just like in people, however we used specialised lion-sized dental equipment!

How was Lazarus anaesthetised? Lazarus was anaesthetised with an intramuscular dose of anaesthetic drugs. Keepers he is familiar with trained him to stand against the fence in his nightyard for an injection. We then managed his anaesthesia just like a domestic cat, by putting a tube into his trachea. The anaesthetic gas and oxygen kept him safely asleep while we transported him to the Wildlife Hospital, where the procedurewas undertaken.

Although Lazarus is a happy and well adjusted zoo-based cat he is still a wild animal and potentially very dangerous. During the transport to and from the wildlife hospital and throughout the medical procedure we are reliant on general anaesthesia to keep everybody safe. Taronga’s vets are very experienced with lion anaesthesia but we still take every precaution.

Can you tell us a quirky fact about Lazarus? Lazarus is a Kiwi! He was born at Auckland Zoo and moved to Dubbo to take up a very important role in Taronga’s African Lion conservation breeding program. Since his arrival he has sired two litters of cubs. Lazarus and his extended family will soon take up residence in the Zoo’s exciting new African Lion Pride Lands exhibit, opening in March 2018.

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