An international team of surgeons has begun to carry out preliminary procedures to implement a tiger prosthesis in the world for the first time.
In 2012, a tiger, called Sahebrao, fell into the trap of a hunter. The animal, which now lives in a shelter in India, has been saved, but has suffered serious injuries to the legs and the left was amputated due to a beginning of gangrene.
Last week, the medical team began the first of three steps of the procedure that will end with the implementation of the prosthesis. The path is very long and it will take a few months of preparation before the feline can be submitted to the final intervention. The specialists are convinced that they will be able to proceed with the implementation not before the next month of December.
The eight-year-old male named Sahebrao was caught in a poacher’s trap with his brother six years ago. The older sibling died, but Sahebrao was rescued and taken to the Maharashtra Animal and Fisheries Science University for treatment.
Last year, Indian orthopaedic surgeon Sushrut Babhulkar visited the animal rescue centre after learning it was caring for the 200kg tiger, which the centre claims is Asia’s largest in captivity. “He was like a royal king, truly magnificent,” Babhulkar says.
In February, Babhulkar started talking to veterinarians about whether the tiger could be fitted with a prosthetic paw. On Sunday, Sahebrao underwent his first X-rays to determine the extent of the injury and create a model for the prosthesis.
Shanti Jha, a veterinary orthapaedic surgeon based in Arizona, said: “You can see in the X-rays that his middle two toes are missing, and for a big cat those are the most important for weight bearing.”
He said Sahebrao would then undergo a CT scan to help vets understand what kind of prosthesis to design: one that could be fused to its leg, or a larger appendage that could be attached like a ski boot. “Most likely there will be something strapped onto his arm, that would be better,” Jha said.
Surgeons from Switzerland’s AV Foundation and the University of Leeds are also involved in the operation.
Should they succeed in fitting Sahebrao with an artificial device, ensuring he doesn’t tear it off will be the next challenge, and will probably require a specialist animal behaviourist, Jha said.