CORVALLIS, Ore. — Specialists at Oregon State University’s veterinary hospitaloperated Tuesday on a rare red wolf from the breeding program at PointDefiance Zoo & Aquarium in Washington.
Chester, who was born at the Tacoma, Wash. zoo nearly two years ago, is one ofonly about 260 red wolves remaining in the world.
The procedure went smoothly and as of Wednesday morning, Chester was back homein Tacoma, bright-eyed and very excited about his breakfast.
“We’re feeling really excited and hopeful that this will help give him a goodquality of life and help him feel better,” said Dr. Kadie Anderson, associatezoo veterinarian at Point Defiance and a 2011 graduate of OSU’s CarlsonCollege of Veterinary Medicine.
Chester was born with a congenital defect in his liver known as a shunt, wherea blood vessel bypasses the liver and allows unfiltered blood and toxins torun throughout his body. To fix it, doctors needed to block the errant vesseland keep the blood running through his liver’s filtration system.
Doctors at the Lois Bates Acheson Teaching Hospital within OSU’s veterinarycollege perform six or seven shunt procedures each year on dogs, but this wastheir first time operating on a wolf. The doctors confirmed it’s the firsttime in history a red wolf has had a shunt repaired with this technique.
The nonsurgical procedure is similar to a coronary angioplasty in humans:Doctors feed a catheter through a vein to the liver, place a tubular meshstent across the opening of the affected blood vessel, then gradually placecoils against the stent to stimulate clotting at the opening. In time, thevessel will be completely blocked, so blood will be routed directly throughthe liver rather than bypassing it.
While he’s done the procedure many times, veterinary hospital director Dr.Helio de Morais said operating on an endangered species was especiallystressful.
“I don’t want to be the one responsible for there being only 259 left,” hesaid.
In the end, everything went according to plan during the three-hour procedureTuesday.
“I think the procedure went very smoothly,” de Morais said. “It might be theeasiest one we’ve done.”
A red wolf’s anatomy is very similar to a dog’s, so the doctors were infamiliar territory, said Dr. Kate Scollan, an associate professor in theveterinary college who also worked on the procedure.
“It certainly was fun to do this in a new species for us,” she said. “Anddefinitely hats off to our anesthesia team and the team from the zoo workingtogether on the anesthesia part — everything looked like it went reallysmoothly there too, which is always one of the big challenges.”
Chester, who will turn 2 in May, is one of a litter of eight pups born intoPoint Defiance’s red wolf conservation program in 2019. There are currentlysix female wolves at the zoo itself and approximately 50 wolves at its off-site breeding facility, run in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and WildlifeService.
Red wolves are the only carnivore species unique to the U.S., but aggressivehunting almost killed them off by the 1970s. Through conservation efforts byzoos and the Fish and Wildlife Service, there are now about 250 in zoos,though fewer than 20 red wolves remain in the wild.
Point Defiance staff knew something was wrong when Chester was just 3 or 4months old, but despite numerous tests they could not determine the source ofhis gastrointestinal discomfort until October when bloodwork finally indicatedthe trouble stemmed from a liver shunt.
“Your liver does so much work for your body, but if it doesn’t have theability to filter your blood, it’s not going to be able to do its job,”Anderson said.
Because his condition may be genetic, the zoo plans to neuter him after thestent procedure so he will not contribute to the breeding program. But he willstill play an important role as a companion animal to other wolves who are notrecommended for breeding, helping socialize when members of the pack need tobe separated during breeding season.
From the beginning, Chester has been easy to spot as he’s always been one ofthe more confident wolves, Anderson said. If a visitor snapped a photo of thewolf pups, Chester was likely front and center.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing him recover,” she said.
And Chester can look forward to celebrating with a meat cake from his keeperson his upcoming birthday.
By Molly Rosbach, [email protected]
Image: Jens Odegaard
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