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Surgeries start with Kylie and Oliver

Tuesday, 9am and Kylie is the first bear on the hospital surgery table following Oliver who had his surgery on the floor of the truck on the road. A brown bear with large, strong forelimbs, but weighing in at quite a small 149kg, Kylie is already benefiting from a healthy diet and scarfing down everything offered. Still, she is thin and the only bear says vet Monica whose femoral pulse she can feel in her skeletal back leg.

As she lies here, sick and vulnerable, it’s clear that Monica has a big job on her hands. Kylie has a massive hernia in the centre of her abdomen where in the middle lies a latex catheter surrounded by a hole flowing with bile and pus. Further down, another red wound which could be an abscess, or from where she has had a previous surgery (or, more appropriately, butchery) to implant another catheter, or where the bile flowing from the top hole is causing an acidic burn further down below.


Higher up around her chest, is the scaring from the full metal jacket, snaking around her ribcage and clearly causing significant irritation and pain. A chestnut-sized mass around one of her nipples will also need to be removed and biopsied. It is little wonder this bear was hunched over in pain and unable to lie on her abdomen when we arrived to rescue her from the farm.

Soundly sleeping now, she is wheeled out for X-rays where the mass is deemed not to have spread, but where signs of arthritis are detected in the lower spine.

Her teeth are hideous – and most will need to be removed. Her four canines have been deliberately hacked from her jaw, as all have been cut “cleanly” away, exposing blackened pulp and raw nerves. Those that have not been cut by the farmer have been shattered by her own incessant bar-biting – a cage-crazy bear, self-mutilating in stress and frustration during her years on the farm. Still, her teeth will have to wait, as the “clean” (sterile) surgery on her abdomen has priority before the “dirty” surgery of a dental in the weeks ahead.

Kylie also has hyperkeratotic paw pads (severely dry and cracked) from dehydration and from never being able to walk on solid ground for so many years.

2.30pm and Heather and Monica are stitching up. The gall bladder is out and, with it, the horrible latex catheter with metal flanges which have been crudely securing it in place. The hernia has been repaired, and now it’s down to Kylie’s own power of healing to determine whether the abdominal scar tissue will fuse well enough for her to lead a normal life playing outside with other bears.

Oliver was back on the surgery table on Thursday for X-rays of his poor deformed body, that’s another eight to go for surgery in the following days and weeks.

Thank you to everyone who’s written in about Oliver, asking how he is. “Truly gorgeous” are the words that come to mind. Curious, alert and a million miles from where he was 10 days ago in terms of distance and recovery. His surgical site is clean and dry and his personality is at last beginning to glow – no longer swiping furiously every time a human comes near.

Vet Heather says Oliver is back in the quarantine polytunnels, "scoffing like he's not eaten for 30 years and taking his meds well". But she warns that because of his age, severe arthritis and compression of his lungs due to malformation of his chest, his progress will be monitored very carefully.

Vet nurse Caroline brightly advised about his love of veggies above all else and there he was as she spoke, scoffing down a mountain of food – a relaxed and happy bear.

I’d like to take this opportunity too, of thanking once again the Shanxi Province hospital and police for all they did in literally saving Oliver’s life.

Their help and their kindness under difficult conditions were extraordinary and we are sincerely grateful to them all. This sign outside the local traffic police station says it all. They are indeed TRIFFIC in every sense of the word.

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