(Written by Dr Ashleigh Tordiffe for PAKO Magazine – Children’s edition)
During the 2014 & 2015 health examinations on our cheetahs at AfriCat, the vets performed abdominal ultrasonography on all of the cheetahs. This means that they scan each cheetah using an ultrasound scanner, in order to make sure that all of the animal’s internal organs look healthy.
When it was 11-year-old Curly’s turn in July 2014, no one was expecting anything to be abnormal. She seemed perfectly healthy – she was eating well, behaving normally, and in very good condition. So you can imagine everyone’s surprise when Doctor Kirberger, the specialist performing the ultrasound scans, pointed out a strange growth on the screen. It was about the size and shape of a tennis ball . . . and it was right in the middle of Curly’s abdomen!
It didn’t seem to be part of, or attached to, any other organ – but the scan showed that it had blood flowing into and out of it. It was definitely live tissue of some sort. There was some worry it might be a tumour, but there was no way to be sure without getting it out of Curly’s abdomen, and that would mean surgery!
Fortunately Doctor Hartman, a specialist surgeon, was part of the team during the annual health-check. He offered to use a surgical technique called, laparoscopy to get a closer look at the growth inside Curly.
Laparoscopy is sometimes called ‘Keyhole Surgery’ because instead of having to make a long cut in order to be able to see the area when operating, the surgeons use special instruments and a camera, which they place inside through tiny cuts (keyholes).
Curly was put under anaesthetic and the procedure began. Doctor Hartman made a tiny incision in Curly’s abdomen and through it he pushed the laparoscope. Some gas was pumped into the abdomen through another small cut. This helped move all the organs inside apart so that the team and on-looking enthusiastic guests and Okonjima guides could see clearly.
We all watched on a large screen as Doctor Hartman moved the camera around inside Curly’s abdomen. . . . and suddenly there it was – a strange, bumpy, round pink ball of tissue. The mysterious mass.
We have lots of photos and the full report about Curly and her operation on the AfriCat Website.
PS. Curly recovered very quickly from her surgery and is still perfectly fit and healthy. She seems completely unaware that she made medical history that day!