'Text-book recovery': Tasmanian devil at Orana has groundbreaking hip replacement surgery

A three-year-old tasmanian devil at Christchurch's Orana Wildlife Park is recovering after he went under the knife in a groundbreaking hip replacement surgery.

Talei was the first of his kind to get a full hip replacement. And on Thursday afternoon the endangered carnivorous marsupial will have his final post-surgery visual check-up with Dr Warrick Bruce, the specialist orthopaedic veterinary surgeon who performed the ground-breaking surgery in July.

An x-ray taken after Talei's surgery, showing his full hip replacement on the right side. Image:...
An x-ray taken after Talei's surgery, showing his full hip replacement on the right side. Image: Orana Wildlife Park
Said Orana exotic species manager Rachael Mason: "Talei is a middle-aged devil and suffered from a deteriorating hip joint causing severe pain and lameness.

"Our animal care and veterinary team implemented an initial treatment plan to manage the pain.

"Subsequent x-rays revealed a grossly deformed hip joint which carried a poor long-term prognosis for Talei.

"Ongoing pain medication would not effectively manage his condition, thereby compromising his life expectancy."

Photo: Orana Wildlife Park
Photo: Orana Wildlife Park
Orana vet Ben Davidson, of the Rangiora Vet Centre, said the surgery was the best solution for Talei: "The damage to his joint was severe where the outer layer of cartilage had eroded away, meaning his joint was essentially bone rubbing on bone causing extreme discomfort.

"After consulting with our specialist surgeon, Dr Warrick Bruce, it was agreed that the best solution for Talei would be a full hip replacement, giving back a fully active and pain free life," Davidson said.

"Dr Bruce is one of the few surgeons experienced in hip replacement surgery in animals in New Zealand.

"He was able to source the specialist instruments and implants required from the USA. The operation took place at Rangiora Vet Centre and progressed perfectly.

"Talei has experienced a smooth, text-book recovery from the surgery. We are delighted that he has responded so well to his new joint," Davidson said.

Photo: Orana Wildlife Park
Photo: Orana Wildlife Park
Mason said they have seen a very positive change in Talei since the operation.

"He is no longer on pain relief and has full use of his hip. Talei is a shy animal and is most active at night," Mason said.

"Since being transferred from our hospital room back into his exhibit, we have tracked his overnight movements with night vision cameras and know that he is investigating his habitat, climbing structures and is behaving like a perfectly healthy devil.

"This operation has dramatically enhanced his quality of life," Mason said.

Davidson said the surgery also has significant implications for the management of endangered species.

An x-ray showing the damaged joint on the right side. Image: Orana Wildlife Park
An x-ray showing the damaged joint on the right side. Image: Orana Wildlife Park
"Talei has proven that this is a viable option and a fantastic alternative to long term pain relief or euthanasia," he said.

"Obviously not all animals with a sore hip require a hip replacement but there are cases where this is the best option.

"A specialist veterinary surgeon is trained to recognise the cases where this surgical treatment will provide a favourable outcome."

Talei was transferred to Orana Wildlife Park from Devils@Cradle in 2019 as part of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Ambassador Programme.




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