Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
Improves Leg Deformities in Abused Tiger
- Tiger Was Part of "Photo
for Money" Trade That Exploits Exotic Animals
(click here for the video)
people paid $25 to have their picture taken with Sulley, a
tiger cub, his malnourishment was causing his legs to bow
outward when he walked. Nearly two years later, three University
of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine surgeons
attempted to correct Sulley's right leg with an innovative
surgery performed for the first time on a tiger.
"This is a risky procedure in any
animal, but deemed to be feasible in Sulley because of his
excellent demeanor and his wonderful and attentive caretakers,"
said Derek Fox, assistant professor of small animal surgery.
"Our hope is that by straightening the bones in Sulley's
forelimb to match what we believe is more normal for a tiger,
the corresponding joints will work more efficiently, and he
will not be in as much pain."
For the past few years, Mizzou surgeons
have been studying a technique used in humans to correct similar
limb deformities in dogs. Fox practiced for Sulley's surgery
using models and CT scans of the tiger's right leg. During
Sulley's surgery, Fox straightened the affected bones, realigning
the joints above and below the affected bones to optimize
functional use of the leg and increase Sulley's comfort. Fox,
who also is the associate director of the Comparative Orthopaedic
Laboratory (COL), was joined by Jimi Cook, associate professor
of small animal surgery and director of the COL, and James
Tomlinson, professor of small animal orthopaedic surgery.
In the past year, Sulley's condition had
worsened, and with the normal weight gain of an adolescent
tiger, it was increasingly hard for his front legs to support
his body. Without surgery, Sulley's leg deformities were leading
to multiple permanent joint malformations, arthritis and pain.
Sulley's condition is similar to that seen
frequently in dogs, where the growth and development of the
bones that constitute the forelimb is affected by trauma,
malnourishment or other systemic juvenile diseases. In Sulley's
case, this condition can affect both forelimbs simultaneously.
"We really appreciate the work that
Pat Craig and The Wild Animal Sanctuary does and for asking
us to participate in trying to help Sulley," Cook said.
"I think it is important to help Sulley and try to improve
his quality of life, and even more important to educate the
public so that we can try to prevent this from happening to
any other animal."
Before coming to live at the Wild Animal
Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colo., Sulley and four other tiger
cubs were bought by an exhibitor from a breeder in Texas.
The exhibitor would charge up to $25 at fairs and carnivals
for pictures with the tiger cubs. Although this practice is
legal if the exhibitor is licensed by the USDA, many of these
operations have poorly trained personal who do not give the
correct nourishment or care to the cubs. Tiger cubs are often
taken away from their mothers as early as 10 days old. Exhibitors
need small cubs to replace tigers that are too big.
When Sulley was 12 weeks old, the maximum
age allowed by the USDA for these types of operations, he
was returned to his base camp with his siblings. A man not
licensed by the USDA but willing to try and make a profit
anyway, took the five cubs. Living out of his car with five
tiger cubs, he drove down to New Orleans and displayed the
cubs in the parking lots. This practice did not last long.
After one of the cubs died from being left in the hot car
too long, and another died from unknown circumstances, the
man was arrested for animal cruelty.
When the local Society of the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals confiscated the tigers, they notified
The Wild Animal Sanctuary, where staff members made arrangements
to rescue them and take them back to Colorado. All three of
the remaining cubs were malnourished and had varying stages
of leg deformities. The sanctuary's veterinarian returned
the cubs to a carnivore milk formula diet. Two cubs' legs
began to improve and straighten with their next growth spurt,
but Sulley's legs did not. The Wild Animal Sanctuary contacted
Fox, knowing he was researching similar leg deformities in
dogs, and asked him if he could perform the surgery.
"Sulley's abuse and rough start in
life is very typical for the hundreds and hundreds of exotic
cubs born into this terrible system each year," said
Craig, executive director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary. "When
Sulley's legs didn't straighten out like the other cubs' legs
did, we began researching how we might be able to help him.
The work of Dr. Fox and the veterinary team at MU is the culmination
of an amazing collaboration by a host of individuals, doctors,
facilities and medical equipment suppliers. We wanted Sulley
to have the best, and he's definitely got it here at MU."
Several companies have made invaluable
contributions to the surgical care of Sulley. ProtoMED, located
in Arvada, Colo. provided custom anatomical models of the
affected bones, and Synthes USA, located in West Chester,
Pa., provided bone plates and screws for the surgery. A number
of similar ongoing research projects at MU's Veterinary Medical
Teaching Hospital are focused on re-examining a variety of
orthopedic conditions that specifically relate to angular
limb deformity corrections in animals.
Mizzou is home to Mizzou Tigers for
Tigers, the nation's first tiger mascot conservation program.
Faculty, staff, students and alumni from the College of Agriculture,
Food and Natural Resources, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife,
College of Veterinary Medicine, School of Journalism, Department
of Biological Sciences, Department of Environmental Studies,
International Center, University Affairs, Alumni Relations,
Development and Intercollegiate Athletics are working together
to raise awareness about the endangered status of the University's
mascot, while raising funds to aid in wild tiger research
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