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Zoo's orphaned mountain lion gets knee surgery

January 3, 2014 Updated: January 4, 2014 at 8:11 am
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Tocho, a mountain lion who resides at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo had five hours of knee surgery recently.

Bet you can't guess what is helping him heal.

Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men.

The zookeepers are placing that scent and some others on boxes and paper bags in his hospital enclosure to get him to move around a bit.

"After all, we can't leash walk him or take him swimming for physical therapy," explained Liza Dadone, the zoo's head veterinarian. "The perfume is like having a new book in the house, something interesting to go look at."

She's not sure what is in the perfume that makes it so intriguing to mountain lions, but the technique is well known in veterinarian circles. It is certainly nicer than rolling around in eau de feces, which is what mountain lions do in the wild.

Tocho was one of four mountain lion cubs rescued when their mother was killed in a hunting incident. He and his sister Kaya, and brothers Motega, and Yuma, who are all spayed and neutered, now live together in the zoo's mountain lion exhibit. They get along quite fine. In the wild, mountain lions are usually solitary creatures.

Tocho's plight began Dec. 1 when the staff noticed he wasn't walking well on his right hind leg. They couldn't see any wounds, so tried medication for a few days thinking it might be stiffness caused by cold weather. When that didn't help, they contacted Colorado State University's James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins. An orthopedic veterinarian came to the zoo to help with an evaluation.

Tocho had torn his cruciate ligament. The problem causes instability to the knee and left untreated would cause him to limp badly, and suffer from arthritis and long term pain.

The surgery is common in dogs, and humans, but very unusual in big cats. Complicating the problem was that Tocho had undergone surgery a couple of years ago for a broken leg.

The procedure entailed cleaning out the torn ligament and replacing two bone plates that had been used to repair the broken leg.

The force that a mountain's leg endures when it jumps is considerable, so sturdy plates were needed so the cat could exercise normally.

Zoos have all sorts of techniques to check animal health. For example, they teach the cats to stand on their back legs against the mesh fence to check if their nails are too long, or if they have thorns in their paws. They even train them to lean their shoulders against the mesh so that their annual vaccines can be given.

But this, or course, was something altogether different.

"We couldn't just do the surgery right away. It's very complicated, so we did a lot of planning for several weeks," Dadone explained. The surgery team had never done the procedure on a mountain lion.

Thirteen medical experts from the zoo, CSU, and Colorado Academy of Veterinary Technology in Colorado Springs, were involved in the surgery, including seven veterinarians, four vet technicians and two vet tech students.

The veterinarians were: Clara Goh, Matthew Johnston, Ross Palmer and Dana Ruehlman, from CSU; Dave Rubenstein, from CAVT; Eric Klaphake and Liza Dadone, from the zoo.

CSU provided high tech surgery items including an electric cauterizer, DePuy Synthes Companies donated the bone plates.

Such a surgery could have cost as much as $10,000 dollars. But supplies and time was donated. The team even agreed to do it the day after Christmas, when many of them were supposed to be on vacation.

Tocho was our priority," Dadone said.

Erica Meyer, zoo spokeswoman, noted that CSU, CAVT and the zoo have collaborated on other procedures done at the zoo, and have work on science papers regarding the work. "We are a non-profit and these relationships are vital for us and we are so appreciative."

Dadone was part of the anesthesia team that worked on the 110-pound mountain lion.

"It took a huge amount of planning. We were on high alert, and had assigned roles. We didn't want him waking up in the surgery room or complications."

The five-hour surgery "went beautifully," she said. Recovery is going well. Tocho must rest for nine weeks and is still on antibiotics and painkillers.

He is acting normally with his keepers. But when veterinarians come to check on him, he understandably gets somewhat anxious, Dadone said.

Tocho is being is housed adjacent to his siblings so that they can see and smell him and do not begin to think of him as a stranger. They eventually will be introduced into his area one at a time.

It is hoped that Tocho will be back in the exhibit area by spring.

Meanwhile, he is getting a lot of fun and interesting enrichment treats such as tasty rawhide chews and phone books to shred, which is time consuming and alleviates boredom.

And of course there will be plenty of paper sacks to play with so he can enjoy the scent of Calvin Klein Obsession for Men.


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

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