AfriCat vet research

Research Vets back at AfriCat

Once a year a team of veterinarians, veterinary nurses, researchers, students and volunteers meet at the AfriCat Foundation to carry out the annual health examinations on all the semi-captive large cats. Some form of annual health check is required by law in Namibia for all captive and semi-captive felids, but at AfriCat we go way beyond what is required, both to ensure that the cats are maintained in excellent health and to maximize the research opportunities.

For the past 4 years the team has been led by Dr Adrian Tordiffe [2013 & 2014 from the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa – 2015: from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria (UP)], and Dr Gerhard Steenkamp from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria (UP).

The past 3 years the AfriCat clinic was transformed into a high-tech surgical theatre. Visitors and staff were able to watch every detail of the surgery on television screens stationed outside the theatre.

As with any new technique, or research project – all aspects of the procedures performed at AfriCat are accurately documented so that the methods and research are published in an international veterinary journal at a later stage.

One of the research studies this year is the effect of portal access system and surgery type on surgery times during laparoscopic ovariectomy and salpingectomy in captive African lions and cheetahs (Comparing surgical techniques in order to make sterilization surgery safer for wild lions and cheetahs). 

There are a number of reasons why the management of population numbers of large cats such as lions and cheetahs is becoming more important. There are stricter controls on hunting, and increasing numbers of free-ranging lions in smaller parks. Predator overpopulation leads to increasing threat to antelope (prey species) populations in these areas, and so, in order to maintain balance in these environments, predator numbers need to be managed. One of the ways in which this can be done is by the surgical sterilization of breeding animals.

Because this kind of surgery is usually carried out in the field, without all the anesthetic equipment and sterile environment usually offered in an operating theatre, there is a real need for the development of surgical techniques that are able to be performed quickly and as non-invasively as possible. For this reason, a team of surgeons from the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria, designed a study in which they compared different laparoscopic (“keyhole”) surgical techniques in lions and cheetahs in terms of surgical time.

Using a laparoscope, the team performed either ovariectomies (in which the ovaries are removed) or salpingectomies (in which just a portion of the fallopian tube is removed), and compared the techniques in term of time and ease of technique.
They also compared two different kinds of laparoscopic techniques – single port access system versus multiple port access system. A single port access system required fewer incisions than a multiple port system as in the former all the instruments are introduced into the abdomen through one incision, rather than having separate incisions for different instruments. They wanted to see if using only one port would make the surgery more difficult to perform.

vets at work at AfriCatresearch studies on cheetahs

Namibia had recently legislated that all female cheetahs in captivity must be surgically sterilized, and so AfriCat were able support this research project while at the same time complying with these regulations. All the females at the facility were sterilized by the team from South Africa, and formed part of the cheetah cohort of the study.

The team was able to determine that performing salpingectomies, rather than ovariectomies, reduced surgical time. They also discovered that, contrary to their predictions, using only a single port for access did not increase the difficulty of the surgery, nor did it slow surgical times. This is good news for future lion and cheetah sterilization patients, as it has been shown that reducing the number of ports has advantages for the patient in terms of things like post-operative infection rates, return to normal activity and post-operative pain.

Effect of portal access system and surgery type on surgery times during laparoscopic ovariectomy and salpingectomy in captive African lions and cheetahs. Full research report. (PDF)

operating theatre at AfriCat


Others studies undertaken at this years Annual Health Check:

Assessing the value of transabdominal ultrasound in monitoring the reproductive status of cheetahs.

A new surgical technique for sterilizing leopards is described for the first time

Ultrasonographic adrenal gland findings in healthy semi-captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)



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