Help needed for ops on declawed ‘cats’
By DENISE PIPER
Last updated 05:00 11/10/2009
Kamo’s Zion Wildlife Gardens is pushing for paw repair surgery to be done on 29 lions and tigers that have been declawed.
The big cat sanctuary is on a mission to raise $250,000 to have the operations done to prevent chronic pain and potential lameness.
Operations manager Tim Husband says the declawing operations were done when Craig Busch was in charge of the park between 2000 and 2008 but were stopped when his mother Patricia took over.
Declawing involves much more than just taking the claw out, says Mr Husband, because the claw, like a fingernail, can grow back.
Declawing involves cutting off the bone of the animal’s toes at the last knuckle. The operation was done on almost all of Zion’s lions and tigers.
Mr Husband says the operation can have a big impact on the big cats.
For a start, they are unable to grip properly and cannot hold their meat or grip on slippery surfaces.
“We had a few injuries this winter with the lions because they slid off their boxes in the wet.”
Because of the lack of bone, the cats splay their paws when they walk and end up lame in their shoulders, he says.
While working in a zoo in Australia, Mr Husband sadly watched two leopards, rescued from a circus, deteriorate after they were declawed. They were eventually put down.
A recent assessment by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and an independent vet found Zion’s big cats are in the best condition they have ever been in, aside from two cats having trouble with their gait.
Mr Husband says the aim of the six-hour operations is to be proactive and prevent pain.
“They all need this corrective surgery, even the ones not showing any signs at the moment. It’s like waiting for a bomb to go off, eventually it’s going to happen.”
The ground-breaking paw repair surgery involves reshaping the cut bone and reattaching the tendons, allowing the cats to walk and grip properly.
The surgery has been done successfully on 70 big cats by American veterinarian Dr Jennifer Conrad, says Mr Husband.
“It’s the right thing to do to right this wrong. The idea of having an animal in captivity is to give them quality of life.”
The surgery has never been done out of the United States but Mr Husband is confident Zion will be able to raise the $250,000 to have Dr Conrad flown to Kamo to perform the operations.
Zion is running on a shoestring budget and is unable to afford the surgery itself, he says.
Zion Wildlife Gardens is involved in disputes with Craig Busch through the Employment Relations Authority and the High Court.
Mr Busch could not be contacted for comments by edition time.