Top vet Romain Pizzi has been working with Animals Asia staff at our Vietnam sanctuary to share his keyhole surgery expertise.
Romain, who is veterinary surgeon at Edinburgh Zoo and the Scottish SPCA National Wildlife Rescue centre, is a leading expert in minimally invasive surgery in wildlife. He is also founder and Chairman of Wildlife Surgery International.
For bears rescued from bear bile farms, it’s vital vets are able to monitor internal damage. Working with Romain and implementing laparoscopy techniques means the difference between bears undergoing major exploratory operations followed by a month recovering in a small cage and them re-joining friends in their enclosures the following day.
During his time at Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, Romain trained Animals Asia vet staff in the technique enabling them to visualise abdominal organs to assess the extent of damage caused by past bile extractions. The method also enabled the taking of biopsies for testing which assists in deciding if further surgery is required.
Romain not only donated his time but also assisted in sourcing the required equipment - generously donating some of it himself via Wildlife Surgery International.
During the course of the week, Romain and the Animals Asia team successfully assessed nine bears using the keyhole techniques. All of the bears assessed during the week had a history of bile extraction and staff were able to check the state of their gall bladders. At Animals Asia’s China sanctuary differing methods of extraction means gall bladders are routinely removed from rescued bears but in Vietnam the decision is made on a case-by-case basis.
In the past vets have relied on ultrasound examinations or exploratory surgery however laparoscopy reveals more information than ultrasound, and avoids potential complications and long recovery times of open exploratory surgery.
Abnormalities noted in the bears checked, included scarring of the abdominal wall from repetitive needle punctures for bile extractions, scarring in the liver, adhesions within the abdomen, abdominal infection and increased levels of fluid in their abdomens. Samples and biopsies were taken of all abnormalities and further tests will be carried out.
Animals Asia Bear and Vet Team Director Annemarie Weegenaar said:
“Thankfully none of the bears checked that week 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 four weeks they normally have to spend in a recovery cage following open surgery. It was a hugely beneficial week and the lessons we’ve learned will continue to benefit the bears.”
Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson added:
“We are indebted to Romain for his generosity and expertise. Keyhole techniques mean not only can we minimise recovery times for bears - we can also often spot health issues as they arise.
“Ensuring the health and happiness of the bears means managing a range of disabilities and conditions. This allows us to balance the bears’ increased freedom with the monitoring required to ensure they remain healthy. It also ensures we continue to build our knowledge on the damage that bile extraction does to bears so we can further counter those who continue to deny the suffering involved.”
"I am very happy to have been able to help support the fantastic animal welfare work Animals Asia does with bears rescued from illegal bile farms in Vietnam. Bears are special animals for me, each having their own individual personalities. To see two bears standing on their hind legs wrestling and playing the next morning, after undergoing keyhole surgery, really makes it all worthwhile. It is just worlds away from if they had to have an open abdominal surgery, and needed weeks of recovery.”