Bear this again…


By Lauren Gelling

Walker had an infected bone removed

A POLAR bear with a recurring tooth problem had to make his second visit to the dentist this year.

Walker, a two year old polar bear from the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie, had dental surgery in February to remove an infected tooth.

But his problems didn’t end there as veterinary staff at the park noticed that his jaw was still oozing pus months after the operation.

After antibiotics failed to cure his infected jaw, a specialist team of vets, an anaesthetist and a dentist, were called in for the second time to attend to the polar bear’s molars.

The bear was darted with a cocktail of anaesthetic agents and it took a team 11 people to lift 58 stone Walker onto a makeshift operating table in his enclosure.

A generator was used to power the electrical equipment and a variety of surgical tools were laid out on a portable table.

The bear was then put on gas and air and had his chin shaved before x-rays were taken to identify the exact problem.

An infected bone was removed and the area was flushed out thoroughly to prevent further decay.

Park visitors looked on to the two hour operation from the enclosure’s observation tower as the polar bear’s mouth was stitched up and the surgery was completed.

Norman Johnston, a specialist veterinary dentist from Dental Vets, performed the procedure at the park yesterday (Tue).

He said:

“Today has been a revision surgery for Walker. He had his original surgery back in February, which was to treat a fractured tooth which had abscessed. We took that tooth out, it was a massive lower canine tooth, and we hoped that would the end of it.

“Ordinarily, we would not want to take a tooth out of a wild animal but in this case we had no choice because of the location of the tooth and the problem with it.

“After a month or two the swelling returned and a sinus occurred again, so the surgery today was to try and resolve that.

“We found three areas were there were tracking sinuses associated with the previous surgery and in one of them there was an area of dead bone visible so we were able to go in, remove all the dead bone and infected material and hopefully this sinus will now clear. “

Walker the polar bear has been a feature of the Highland Wildlife Park since November, after he was transported from Rhenen Zoo in Holland.

The only male polar bear in the British Isles, he previously shared an enclosure with Mercedes, a female polar bear who died in April at the age of 30.

Norman Johnston is a specialist veterinary dentist

The whole procedure lasted around five hours and cost between three to four thousand pounds.

The cost included the various drugs used plus fees for the specialist staff and will be taken out of the park’s veterinary budget.

After the temporary operating theatre was dismantled, Walker was given the antidote to the anaesthetic.

Slowly, the drowsy polar bear woke up with a frozen face and attempted a wobbly walk around his enclosure.

Hopefully, this will be the end of Walker’s tooth troubles.

Douglas Richardson, animal collection manager at the Highland Wildlife Park, said:

“Speaking to the vet team and the dentist I think we got the best possible result from today as it went really well.

“It could have been more complex but there is a high degree of confidence that we have taken care of any possible infection at the side of the jaw.

“His mouth is probably sore and he is a bit disorientated. At the moment, he is having some quiet time to recover but the head keeper is out there just now, keeping an eye on him.

“If there are any problems she will be straight on the walkie-talkie and we can deal with anything that may arise, although it’s not expected.

“One of the real positives from today is that when we did it February it was below freezing and there was ice on the ground.

“We were also working outside; the same as we were today, so to have a pleasant sunny day makes a big difference to doing a job like this. “