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Vet brings new insight into bears' pain

Passing the blog over to our Vietnam Vet and Bear Team Director, Annemarie, who has written a fabulous summary about a very special vet we recently welcomed on site in Tam Dao. 

Romain Pizzi is nothing less than a diamond of a man who kindly donated his time and expertise performing keyhole surgery on some of our bears. Annemarie explains more about his trip, and it only leaves me to say what a privilege it was to meet you Romain and sending a heartfelt thank you from us all for being so generous, so kind to our bears and staff, and so sincerely nice to know.

Romain Pizzi, laparoscopy specialist visit to Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, July 2013

We were very fortunate to have Romain Pizzi visit our Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre at the end of July. Romain is a veterinary surgeon at Edinburgh Zoo and at the Scottish SPCA National Wildlife Rescue Centre. Romain specialises in wildlife surgery, and in particular, is a leading expert in minimally invasive, or “keyhole” surgery. More information on Romain and the work he does can be seen via his websites: 

Laparoscopy is an example of a minimally invasive technique that allows visualisation of the inside of the abdomen through very small incisions that heal quickly with minimal recovery time for the patients. During his time at VBRC, Romain trained our veterinary staff in this technique, which will allow our vets to visualise abdominal organs including the gall bladder and liver to assess the extent of damage caused by having bile extracted in the past, and to take biopsies for testing if necessary. This will be a very useful tool in making decisions about whether or not to perform major surgery. 

Romain has been very generous in donating his time, sourcing the equipment needed and even personally donating some of the items. His trip was made feasible thanks to the generous donation of Katherine Tong.

During the course of the week Romain and our team successfully assessed 9 bears using this technique. As each bear was checked, Romain trained our staff on all the necessary techniques to visualise the inside of the abdomen and to take biopsies. This included set up and use of the specialised equipment and instruments, as well as detailed explanations on the theory and benefits of the technique. 

All of the bears assessed during the week had a history of bile extraction, and it was extremely useful to be able to check the state of their gall bladders by laparoscopy. In the past our vets have relied on ultrasound examinations or exploratory surgery to make decisions about whether or not to remove gall bladders, and to investigate certain illnesses. Laparoscopy reveals more information than ultrasound, and avoids the potential complications and long recovery times of open exploratory surgery. 

Some of the abnormalities noted in the bears checked included scarring of the abdominal wall from repetitive needle punctures for bile extraction, scarring in the liver, adhesions within the abdomen, abdominal infection and increased levels of fluid in the abdomen. Samples and biopsies were taken of all abnormalities and further tests will be carried out. Thankfully none of the bears checked required major surgery. All bears were able to return to their houses the following day to rejoin their friends in the enclosure, showing no sign of discomfort from the previous day’s experience – a very different scenario from the 4 weeks they normally have to spend in a recovery cage following open surgery. 

It was a very productive week where our staff had a great opportunity to learn from a very experienced laparoscopic specialist and hopefully we will be able to continue to utilise this technique to allow us to have a very detailed look inside our bears’ abdomens without them having to go through extensive surgery.

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