A couple of weeks ago, park guests got to witness one of the most nerve-wracking and intricate procedures to have occurred in the Animal Care Center. A common loon was rescued by a local wildlife center and when they quickly realized that they would not be able to handle the life-threatening situation by themselves, they contacted Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for immediate assistance.
The loon had apparently swallowed some un-retrieved fishing equipment: literally hook, line, and sinker. These became lodged in its stomach, only centimeters away from its lungs and other vital organs. According to Senior Veterinary Specialist Dr. Peter Black, the bird may have thought that the shiny metal of the hook looked like the scales of a fish, or could have been going after bait that was still on the hook. Either way, the fishing gear needed to be removed immediately and it wasn’t going to be an easy job.
The vets had two choices to try and remove the hook. First they could perform an invasive surgery to cut into the stomach and remove the gear that way, but it would be a risky procedure with a long recovery period. The second option they had was to perform endoscopic surgery to try to remove all the fishing equipment via the throat using a long pair of tweezers. This procedure is also risky because if the vets pull even a little too hard in the wrong direction, it could puncture the throat and possibly the other surrounding organs.
First an x-ray was taken to determine if the equipment could be removed endoscopically through the throat based on its position. After careful analysis, the Animal Care Center vets chose the option with the least amount of pain and recovery time and decided that endoscopic surgery was the best option.
Carefully sliding an endoscopy camera and a pair of long tweezers down the loon’s throat and into its stomach, the vets were able to see the hook, grab it with the tweezers, and slowly maneuver it up the throat, watching its position the entire time so as not to puncture the throat wall.
One of the best parts of the Animal Care Center is the guests’ ability to see what the vets see. Several cameras are placed around the operating room and live video is displayed on the multiple screens in the guest viewing area. In this case, the guests were able to see the same screen Dr. Pete and the other vets were watching as the endoscope revealed what was going on inside the loon’s body.
Several guests held their breath and crossed their fingers as the vets slowly pulled the hook out of the throat. Upon its removal the crowd that had gathered in the Animal Care Center roared with applause as the vets high-fived to celebrate their success. The loon was going to be okay.
A line of children gathered close to the glass to watch as Dr. Pete brought the removed fishing equipment up toward them. There were several “oooh”s and even more “ewww”s heard among the crowd as he showed it off.
The loon had a very short recovery time and was able to be released back into the wild in a matter of days. Another success for the Animal Care Center at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay!
The Animal Care Center schedules procedures for guests to see every day. Check the information screens when you enter to see what time and what animal is expected to be present. Don’t forget that the facility is a hospital, and emergencies do come up so procedure times may change. But when there aren’t any procedures going on there are some really cool animal nutrition shows happening in the kitchen at the other side of the center. You can make a kangaroo diet, watch how other animal meals are made, and even help make enrichment items.
There are so many cool things happening every day here at the park so don’t miss out! Check out our year membership options and get your Annual Passport or Florida Resident Fun Card today so you can catch the fun and excitement all year long.