MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Recently an adult male giraffe named Pongo was fully anesthetized in order to treat critical foot injuries. This incredibly risky procedure would take a special team and a tactical operation.
The team was led by Zoo Miami Associate Veterinarian Marisa Bezjian who explained the process.
“Pongo is really special. He is our tallest giraffe, he’s 11 1/2 years old and he’s been with us for years,” Bezjian said.
Graceful and majestic, at 16 feet tall and nearly 2,000 pounds, Pongo is a big favorite at the zoo. He was being treated for injured feet, but it became apparent medicine wouldn’t be enough.
“We decided to immobilize him. Because he was really bad and uncomfortable in his left hind leg. When he started limping around and that’s when we decided we had to do something for him.”
To put a giraffe fully under with anesthesia is both rare and dangerous. It had never been done at Zoo Miami.
“It’s not every day people are immobilizing giraffes. As a zoo animal, it is one of the riskier procedures that can be done because of their height their physiology. It’s like a tree that’s falling in a forest, you don’t know where it’s going to land. It’s a risky time for them both going down and then in coming up that’s the most problematic.”
The choreographed mission to put him under with anesthesia and provide successful treatment took a team of two dozen, including vets from Lion Country Safari and Brevard Zoo, shoe specialists from Colorado and a host of Zoo Miami staff.
“We had four different teams going. A team focusing on anesthesia, making sure he had stable breathing tube and airway; we had a team just working on imaging x-rays of his feet and his legs.”
A team took care of his feet, giving Pongo a special pedicure and custom rubber shoes, and another team did laser therapy, blood work and tissue samples. They had to work quickly.
“With giraffes, you want to minimize the amount of time that they’re under anesthesia, the longer they’re under anesthesia at the higher risk it is for them to get up.”
All the knowledge and training, the preparations put in motion, and then it comes down to just hoping for the best.
“The whole procedure was kind of an unknown. I could tell all the keepers were nervous, they were holding their breath and I could see their eyes really wide. They’ve never done this before.”
Once the drug to reverse the anesthesia was given, there was more waiting, anxiously, for him to stand up.
“Once he stood it took him a second to stretch and then he started walking okay within ten minutes. He was walking around fine on his new shoes and seemed really comfortable, so we’re all really excited about that. Everyone pulled together and luckily it came out great in the end. He’s doing fabulous, he loves his shoes! It’s amazing the power of a pedicure.”
The mission was accomplished. Pongo was soon reunited with the herd and is expected to fully recover.