Endangered Jaguar Gets Tooth Surgery
DNA Sample Also Taken For Population Studies
POSTED: 8:42 pm MST November 22, 2008
UPDATED: 7:20 pm MST November 23, 2008
PHOENIX — An endangered jaguar on loan from Mexico is being treated at the Phoenix Zoo for injuries suffered while in captivity.
Illegally captured from the wild and then seized by Mexican law enforcement officials, the young male cat suffered damage to its canine teeth while being kept in an inadequate enclosure, said Tom Cadden of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The Mexican government authorized a one-year loan of the cat so that the necessary dental surgery could take place at the zoo, Cadden said.
A board-certified veterinary dental specialist, Dr. Chris Visser, volunteered his time to perform the surgery with assistance from dentist Dr. Louis Visser, anesthesiologist Dr. Victoria Lukasik (one of two veterinary board certified anesthesiologists in Arizona), and cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Brian DeGuzman.
The extent of the damage was unknown until X-rays and blood were taken after the cat was sedated, Cadden said.
Based on the results, veterinarians chose to extract three upper incisors and perform four root canals on the other affected teeth, Cadden said. A follow-up procedure is planned in about six weeks.
“Dr. Visser has long been a tremendous asset to the Phoenix Zoo, donating his time to perform many procedures on our animals,” said Phoenix Zoo CEO/President Bert Castro. “We are grateful that Dr. Visser’s work will improve the quality of life of this jaguar and hope to learn more about this magnificent animal through some important DNA studies we will be conducting.”
While the jaguar was sedated, veterinarians also took blood and tissue samples as part of a DNA study being done to learn more about the jaguar population segment that uses southern Arizona and New Mexico as the northern extent of its range, Cadden said.
“We look forward to gaining new information from the lab tests that were done today to learn more about a virtually unstudied segment of the jaguar population,” said Arizona Game and Fish Department project manager, Bill Van Pelt. “We hope to use the test results and visual observations of the jaguar over the next year to learn more about how this animal varies from individuals in other population segments throughout Mexico, and Central and South America.”
The loan was orchestrated by Game and Fish and the zoo as a way to provide needed medical care to the animal, Cadden said.
Even with the surgery, the jaguar will not be returned to the wild. Preliminary evaluations conducted in Mexico shortly after placing the animal in a zoo determined the tooth damage was too extensive to allow the animal to be successfully returned to the wild. Jaguars range from southern South America through Central America and Mexico and into the southern United States.
By the late 1900s, jaguars were thought to be gone from the U.S. landscape, but two independent sightings in 1996 confirmed that jaguars still used Arizona and New Mexico as part of the northern most extent of its range.
The species has been protected outside of the United States under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. That protection was extended to jaguars within the U.S. in 1997, the year after their presence in the Arizona and New Mexico borderlands was confirmed.
A group — the Jaguar Conservation Team — was established in Arizona and New Mexico to conserve the species.
The jaguar loan and medical services are a cooperative international effort of the Mexican government, the Centro Ecologico de Sonora, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the Phoenix Zoo.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org