Making A More Mobile Camel

As you may have recently heard, our 15 year-old male Bactrian camel Newton has a case of arthritis.  The fact he has arthritis is not unusual, but quite common in other Bactrian camels about his age.  In actuality, arthritis is common in many of our elderly or older animals at the Zoo.

The problem with Newton is that our other treatments have stopped working.  We have tried glucosamine, other anti-inflammatories and injections, changed the dirt in the exhibit and even planted a lot of grass for him.  We have even anesthetized him, taken radiographs (x-rays), and given him steroid injections in his knee.  Despite all of this, his arthritis is continuing to worsen and when you are about 2,000 pounds, arthritis is a pretty severe condition.

In cooperation with the Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine we decided it was worth it to take a look inside his knee to see exactly what was going on.  The problem again was that he was 2,000 pounds; not exactly halter-broke and he wasn't about to walk into a trailer.  The other problem of him being so large is that we do not have any building located at the Zoo where we could actually perform surgery on him.  Our current veterinary facilities can only fit animals that are up to about 400 to 700 pounds (700 if we really try hard and get creative), so it was clear Newton wasn’t going to see the inside of our current clinic.

Now that we realized he did need knee scoping and potentially surgery, where do we do it?  Well, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital has a room and the surgeons to do it; we just had to get him there.  "Just."  If only it were that easy!  Well, we did get him over there and he did get his knee scoped and had some bad cartilage cleaned out to improve the joint.  The process was nothing short of amazing and involved hoisting him, while he was sleeping, into a truck bed (a large truck of course) and then driving over to MSU with him anesthetized supported by a police escort so we could make it there in as short of time as possible.  We then hoisted him out of the truck placed him on an electronic table to bring him in for the surgery.  That’s of course only half of the equation – the entire process had to be reversed so Newton could return to the Zoo!  This procedure included no fewer than 20 people from the Zoo and the College of Veterinary Medicine, including the great surgeons Dr. John Caron and Dr. Kent Ames, as well as anesthesiologists Dr. Fernando Garcia and Dr. George Bohart.  Everyone did a fabulous job and I couldn't have asked for the entire procedure to have gone any better than it did.

Newton is now back at the zoo and a bit sore from the surgery, but that is to be expected.  He is up and eating today and now we are just waiting for him to do his own physical therapy, since it isn't like we are able to help him much with that.  We will keep giving him his medications and along with the surgery, we hope that he will be better for some time to come, but of course we will continue to closely monitor him.

Dr. Tara

Bactrian Camel Procedure

Bactrian Camel Procedure

Bactrian Camel Procedure