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Gazette Premium Content Sanctuary's rare white tiger needs life-saving surgery

CAROL MCGRAW Updated: October 14, 2011 at 12:00 am

He’s a rare stripeless white tiger.

And he is facing a medical procedure uncommon for his species.

Ten-year-old Snow Magic is scheduled to soon have a life-saving amputation of his paralyzed rear left leg, but it will be expensive and somewhat complicated. A special operating table must be built to fit him, and he’ll need a sterile enclosure to keep him tightly confined while he recuperates. Then, he’ll need a handicap accessible enclosure to live in.

A fundraising effort is under way to cover the costs.

The 500-pound tiger was retired from magic shows in Las Vegas about three years ago and has since lived at Serenity Springs Wildlife Center near Calhan with about 120 other big cats and other exotics.

Snow is adored by the staff and visitors. He loves swimming in a water tank and makes soft, friendly “chuffing” noises at visitors. He particularly enjoys his meals and anxiously awaits dinner time, so, spoiled cat that he is, he gets his raw meat before any of the other cats.

On Friday, Snow Magic peered from his den, then made a cameo appearance, walking around his enclosure with his useless left leg dragging in the dirt. He chomped down a huge hunk of meat, and emitted some definitely non-gimpy roars.

There are two types of white tigers — those that are white with greyish and black stripes and those that are stripeless. Although firm numbers are hard to come by, exotic animal experts say there could be 300 or more of the striped ones in the United States. Stripeless ones like Snow Magic are more rare. Nick Sculac, owner of Serendipity Springs, says he’s seen estimates for the cats as low as around 20 in the United States.

White  tigers are created when the recessive gene for the color is inherited from both parents. Starting in the 1960s,  several  zoos had breeding programs. But in recent years, the American Zoological and Aquariaum Association has asked zoos not to breed them because defects are common. The Captive Wildlife Safety Act bans commerce in dangerous exotics for pets.

Serenity Springs is often called on by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take animals that are confiscated. It is the largest federal and state licensed big cat placement center in Colorado, and the only one with a state zoological license.

Sculac says Snow Magic’s medical problems began two years ago when he suffered a spinal aneurism that paralyzed his back legs. Veterinarians used steroids, acupuncture and massages to heal his right leg, but the treatment did not help the left. He had been able to walk stiffly without use of the left leg. But the muscle has deteriorated so much the hip is dislocated.

The medical choices for Snow Magic were to try surgery or euthanize him. “Since he is a healthy cat otherwise, we believe he deserves the opportunity,” said Julie Walker, who helps run the sanctuary. Such animals can live 25 years or more.

Veterinarian Melanie Marsden of Pikes Peak Veterinary Clinic, who provided care when Snow Magic recovered from the aneurism, will do the surgery. She is consulting with big cat specialists.

“We’ve done 150-pound dogs and they do well,” she said. “They take about an hour. For Snow, we anticipate two hours best case scenario. Recovery should be pretty straightforward.”

The medical team will do the surgery in the veterinary clinic on the sanctuary grounds.
Sculac is soldering a new top for a surgery table to fit the big cat because his leg must be stretched out.

Caring for him afterward will be a bit tricky.

“A wild animal doesn’t necessary like nursing care,” Marsden said.

They are building a sterile enclosure attached to the clinic for better access to give medications and take care of the incision. Snow will have around the clock care for several weeks.

Dogs and cats that have surgery usually hate wearing those plastic collars to keep them away from their wounds. It probably won’t be any different for Snow Magic. Marsden calls the devices, the “cone of shame.” They will have to fashion an inner tube size contraption so he can’t turn his head and pull off the bandages.

The sanctuary staff will build a special accessible enclosure for Snow. Instead of a water tank swimming pool, he will have a ground-level pool he can step into without jumping. The den will be ground level, too. They will sod the area and add shredded rubber for soft cushioning.

They estimate the cost of everything will be around $25,000, including the surgery. The cost of 12-foot high chain fencing alone is about $4,000.

So far, donors have chipped in $5,650 for Snow Magic.  


Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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