Shepreth Tiger Saved

5 November 2010, 14:56 | Updated: 5 November 2010, 15:12

A tiger at Shepreth Wildlife Park is recovering after having life-saving surgery.

The tigress, called Amba, has been at the conservation centre for more than ten years now.

However, over the last couple of weeks, she has been fighting for her life.

Amba's keepers and the park's vets were unsure as to why she was suffering though.

The team then noticed Amba was suffering with kind of "bloating" condition.

A specialist team at Cambridge University's Vet School was then approached by managers at the wildlife park.

Arrangements were then made for Amba to be transported from the park to Cambridge University.

Police were on stand-by, as were the wildlife park's own firearms team, in case of emergency.

Blood tests were then taken from Amba, and she returned to Shepreth while vets waited for the results.

These blood results, which tested for a fatal disease associated with fluid build-up in the abdomen, thankfully came back negative.

However, Amba's condition continued to deteriorate, so vets at Shepreth decided to drain off some fluid from Amba's abdominal area.

"This was a risky decision, as a traumatic shock to the body like this could have weakened Amba further, and this procedure had to be done in her own tiger den, not under clinical conditions." reveals Rebecca Willers, Animal Manager.

After the fluid was drained from Amba, Shepreth vets felt sure that they could feel a tumour.

Arrangements were then made to transport the tigress to Cambridge University once again, so specialists could remove the tumour.

Jackie Demetriou was the lead surgeon for this case. She says that operating on Amba was certainly a challenge, with a number of specific issues:

•    to ensure that Amba was fully anaesthetised so that there would be no safety issues during her surgery, both for Amba and also for the team. Amba was anaesthetised and anaesthetists also gave her an epidural local anaesthetic (just like one frequently given during childbirth) to ensure she was pain-free when she woke up.
•    to get additional images of the abdomen prior to surgery. Vets had to borrow a special type of X-ray plate from Addenbrooke's hospital, as they don't use this sort of cassette routinely in veterinary work.
•    One of the larger theatre suites where vets normally undertake horse surgery was used.

Demetriou continued: "Pleasingly, after getting this far the surgery itself went very well indeed.

A tiger's internal anatomy is really the same as a domestic cat's, but bigger.

I made a 25cm incision on the underside of her abdomen and was able to identify the mass and remove it relatively easily, before suturing her up with special dissolvable sutures to avoid the need for her to be anaesthetised again just to take the stitches out.

At this stage we are cautiously optimistic Amba’s surgery has been a success and we are very pleased indeed with her progress.

Tigers are such magnificent animals and, in light of their endangered nature, operating on Amba was an incredible privilege for all of us and an experience I personally will remember for the rest of my life."