Sunday, December 21, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Team cares for rare, aging Sumatran tiger

TigerSurgery1w

A sedated Castro is prepped Tuesday to undergo minimally invasive surgery performed by a team of veterinary surgeons from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Sacramento Zoo. From left are Dr. Ray Wack, Rebecca Pacheco, Megan Duncan, Dr. Katie Delk, Anne Burgdorf and Miranda Sadar. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

By
From page A1 | October 09, 2013 |

SACRAMENTO — As surgery wrapped up here on Tuesday, those in the operating room took turns posing for pictures and petting the broad head of their patient.

Patients don’t come much more unique than Castro.

At 15 years old, the Sacramento Zoo resident stands as the oldest breeding Sumatran tiger among the 120 critically endangered animals in captivity. Fewer than 700 of their kind remain in the wild.

“It’s incredible that the community is able to come together and really provide Castro with the best possible quality of care that we can, so we can make sure he has the highest quality of life that he can,” say Ray Wack, senior veterinarian for the zoo and at UC Davis.

It’s been a rough year for Castro.

He’s undergone four rounds of chemotherapy for lymphoma, a form of cancer, since February, taking drugs hidden in his food. More recently, he was diagnosed with stones in his ureters, the ducts through which urine passes from the kidneys to the bladder.

Born at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Castro and his mother arrived in Sacramento in 1999. Two years later, another female arrived: the nervous, petite (at 180 to 200 pounds) Bahagia. It took six years to introduce her to the intimidating, 300- to 315-pound Castro.

They’ve since produced five living cubs, including Castro Jr., or C.J., who was born in March and already weighs 75 pounds. Also this year: Another of Castro and Baha’s cubs, a male born in 2007 and since relocated to the San Francisco Zoo, made Castro and Bahagia grandparents.

On Tuesday morning, Castro was hit with a blow dart syringe while he was inside his night holding area. Soon unconscious, he was hoisted onto a van then unloaded at the zoo’s Murray Fowler Veterinary Hospital.

Inside, he was hooked up IVs, a tube was inserted into his windpipe, and a swatch of his belly and sides was shaved, exposing the pale, striped skin beneath his fur.

Some good news came right away: A preliminary test showed his red blood cell count nearly normal. While similar cancers have been reported in other tigers, most haven’t responded as well to treatment, Wack said.

The obstruction in the tiger’s left ureter had also largely resolved itself since his last checkup.

That left the stone in his right ureter. The original plan, Wack explained, was to use a tiny scope inserted into the tiger’s penis, traveling up through the bladder before placing a stent, a small tube, between the bladder and kidney, through which urine could flow through.

The surgeons were unable to find the opening within the bladder, however.

Instead, they inserted a needle through Castro’s side, then ran a fine wire through the kidney, down the ureter and into the bladder. Then they placed the stent over the top of that guidewire. In all, the procedure took four hours.

Back in his den, Castro received a drug to wake him up. By midafternoon, he was coming around more quickly than expected. If all goes as planned, he’ll be back on exhibit in two days.

“We think things went really well, but it’ll take us awhile to get his new lab work back and see how he does with his new stent,” said Wack, who has performed surgeries on animals from “insects to elephants.”

More than 30 specialists played some role in Castro’s surgery.

They included a pair of doctors from Sutter Medical Group, urologist Ken Ferguson and interventional radiologist Craig Glaiberman, and a cadre from the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine led by interventional radiologist and surgeon Bill Culp, urologist Carrie Palm and oncologist Rob Rebhun.

GE Healthcare brought in a fluoroscopy unit, allowing surgeons to follow their progress on a monitor, and a special surgery table, from which the tiger’s tail dangled.

Keepers Amanda Mayberry and Erik Bowker first noticed something wasn’t quite right with the big cat.

“He’s not overly aggressive, but he’s not overly sweet,” said Bowker, a UCD graduate, but at the start of the year, the tiger became more aggressive toward his keepers, stumbled occasionally and began losing interest in his daily five or six pounds of beef and cups of oversized chow.

“He just wasn’t the same cat,” Bowker said.

Since he’s started chemotherapy, Castro has found a taste for rabbit, eating one a day, along with the occasional guinea pig, and some chow. His weight was at 245 for the surgery.

Castro’s back to pulling down the bamboo in his enclosure and dragging it around. He’s also returned to another of his habits: moving barrels made of thick white plastic from where the keepers place them and positioning them where he wants them.

“You dedicate your life to taking care of these guys,” Mayberry said. “(Lymphoma) was kind of a devastating diagnosis, but with the care that our vet staff has provided … the amount of dedication they’ve shown has been very comforting.”

Schoolchildren and adults visiting the zoo stopped to watch the surgery Tuesday, peering through large windows and at a computer monitor.

Fourth-year UCD veterinary students Becky Pacheco and Jenny Gorman have worked with big cats before. This time, in the midst of rotations at the zoo, they were able to observe the surgery from its planning stages. They also had a rare chance to get close to a Sumatran tiger.

Gorman took a moment to pet his whiskers.

“They’re so thick compared to a domestic cat’s — they’re just ginormous. They feel like a broom,” Gorman said later. “The size of the animal just blows you away — it’s humbling to see how big they really are.”

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

Comments

comments

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    What’s new at UCD? Construction projects abound

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    No-nonsense Musser voted Citizen of the Year

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Sharing a meal, and so much more

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Brinley Plaque honors environmental stalwart

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Raul Castro: Don’t expect detente to change Cuban system

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Police seek help in finding runaway twin girls

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Downtown crash results in DUI arrest

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    March trial date set in Davis molest case

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    North Korea proposes joint probe over Sony hacking

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    AP sources: Cops’ killer angry over Garner death

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Luminaria display planned in West Davis

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Soup’s On will benefit NAMI-Yolo

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Supplies collected for victims of abuse

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Donors, volunteers honored on Philanthropy Day

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Enterprise plans Christmas, New Year’s holiday hours

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Surprise honor is really nice, dude

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Konditorei presents free holiday concert

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    .

    Forum

    E-cigs surpass regular cigarettes among teens

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

     
    It’s not a pretty picture

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B4

    Google me this: Should I hit that button?

    By Marion Franck | From Page: B4

     
    Too late to pick a fight

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    All police need to humanize

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Are we only a fair-weather bike city?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Join us in making our world more just

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

    The electronic equivalent of war

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

     
    The Green House effect: Homes where the elderly thrive

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A11

    .

    Sports

     
    Stenz shines as DHS girls take a tournament title

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Aggie Manzanares not quite finished carrying the rock

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD women look to improve, despite game at No. 7 Stanford

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Second-half run spurs Aggie men to 8-1

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    49ers fall to San Diego in overtime

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Marrone Bio expands its product reach in Latin America

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Sierra Northern Railway names CEO

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Sink your teeth into Vampire Penguin

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, December 21, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8