At first, the veterinarians and zookeepers at Colombia's
Barranquilla Zoo thought their most popular resident, a 47-year-old
African bush elephant named Tantor, was just dancing.
People loved Tantor-they drove across the country to visit
him, he got a lot of Latin American media attention and even won a
major election three years ago-so maybe he was just putting on a
show for his fans.
In reality, Tantor was suffering. An infection was causing
him to burrow his tusk in the ground in an attempt to alleviate the
pain, and all that packed-in mud led to further infection. When his
doctors recognized the seriousness of the infection, they reached
out for help on a listserv where Latin vets discuss unique
Dr. Carlos Sanchez, who curates the online community, saw
an animal in pain and knew he had to respond to the call for help.
Most importantly, he had administered anesthesia to an elephant
before, an experience none of the Colombian doctors had.
Sanchez, a Brookfield Zoo veterinarian and South Loop
resident, worked with vets at both zoos to organize a procedure
that would safely immobilize and operate on the animal to save its
He communicated with Barranquilla vets through Skype,
talking through each step of the procedure to ensure all equipment,
permits and personnel needed would be on hand.
After weeks of planning, Sanchez and his colleague Dr.
Michael Adkesson flew to Colombia this summer.
"I always define my procedures as very intense. I like to
joke, I like to play with keepers, but once we start a procedure we
do mean business," Sanchez says.
According to Sanchez, Tantor had a three hour time limit
for immobilization that Sanchez had to make sure was followed
Although anesthesia always carries its own risks, with an
animal as large as an elephant, Sanchez knew the team would need to
be even more careful.
"There is a little bit of fear because those animals are
extremely dangerous. If they're not immobilized they could harm
someone," Sanchez says.
The operation went smoothly, and three and a half hours
after they began, Tantor was on his feet and moving
Even though restoring Tantor to health was the main goal
of the operation, Sanchez says the team accomplished much
"We were proud not only that we helped an individual
animal but nurtured a relationship. We trained the local vet in
case this sort of operation needs to happen again, they can help
another zoo. We were a bigger zoo with more resources helping a zoo
with limited resources and expertise to become a better zoo and
provide better care for their animals."
Alaina is the digital content editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Chicago.
See more of Alaina's stories here.
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