Black bear - veterinary care

A black bear goes under the scalpel =
a monumental challenge!

This year our veterinary team needed to tackle a monumental challenge: Juno, one of the female black bears in our care, needed to be spayed.

Why spay Juno?

Despite having two female black bears in our care, the veterinary intervention to spay Juno had been foreseen for a long time. Even if two female bears are not capable of reproducing in the absence of a male, sterilization provides important benefits for the animal. It could help prevent health problems such as certain cancers, and favors psychological and emotional health in animals. The decision was thus taken more than a year ago to go ahead with the intervention.

The challenge!

The sterilization of a female of this species is a very rare intervention indeed. Very few cases have been documented in the scientific literature. Since surgery to spay females is always more complicated than neutering males, the latter more often go under the scalpel. Our head veterinarian, Dre Sarah Annie Guénette, and her team also faced a second challenge: despite the fact the Ecomuseum Zoo now has its own veterinary clinic on site, it remained impossible to move an animal of that size. The team had to put its thinking caps on to find a creative way to setup an operating room within the indoor quarters that the animals use overnight. Thus a multidisciplinary zoo team got busy creating an environment conducive to safe and secure veterinary work.

The next important step was to determine the optimal protocols to follow before operating. Anesthesia for such a large animal, especially in an unusual environ, was an element that could not be neglected as we strove to ensure the animal’s health, the safety of the veterinary team, and of course the overall smooth running of the intervention. To do so we enlisted the help of Québec’s most renowned anesthesiologist, Dr. Jean-Jacques Kona-Boun. Present from the beginning of the intervention right through to the end, he watched over each breath and possible quiver from our large patient.

Because black bears are such large animals and complications can always arise, Dre Guénette also enlisted the help of Dr. Wybranowski, an experienced veterinary practitioner. Once Juno drifted off to dreamland, each of these valued veterinarians collaborated to complete the arduous intervention with the help of our two animal health technicians, always ready to provide assistance. Everything was planned and prepared: the safety of all involved was meticulously considered and contingency plans were in place for the highly improbable case where Juno would awaken suddenly in what would probably be a crummy mood. As you could surely imagine, finding oneself enclosed in a confined space with a black bear who is very much awake, could quickly spell catastrophe. A team charged with logistics and security was also on hand to allow the veterinary team to work with complete peace of mind.

Once the incision was made and the thick layer of fat was moved aside (it is a bear after all!), the surgery went smoothly in complete accord with the detailed steps that had been outlined. Juno awoke from her slumber peacefully under the watchful eye of Dr. Kona-Boun and the entire veterinary team.

In the weeks that followed the veterinary staff kept tabs on Juno’s progress checking that the incision was healing well and that her mood and her energy levels were good. Her rehabilitation was quick and complete and we can today confirm that the intervention was a resounding success for both Juno and the veterinary team that had been preparing for months.