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British Vets Save Chimp

A chimpanzee in a Cameroon ape sanctuary has been given another chance at life thanks to the expertise of two British veterinarians, Sharon Redrobe, CEO of Twycross Zoo and a renowned expert in the care and treatment of endangered wild animals, and Kinley Smith, a specialist veterinary surgeon at Pride Veterinary Centre in Derby.

Chimpanzees are endangered in the wild, with numbers declining dramatically due to habitat loss, hunting by poachers for bushmeat and the illegal pet trade.  Manka is a nine-year-old female chimpanzee, whose mother was rescued by Ape Action Africa, a forest sanctuary in Cameroon which is home to rescued and orphaned Western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys.

Manka recently broke her leg just above the knee in a fall from a tree and required specialised surgery.  Redrobe and Smith flew from Britain to Cameroon to conduct an operation to fix the fracture.  However, over the course of the procedure, it became clear that Manka’s leg was severely infected and would need to be amputated in order for her to survive.

No veterinary surgery is without risk, even in advanced veterinary hospitals back home in the UK.  In the African jungle, those risks are magnified.  Life-threatening surgery and medical procedures are conducted in the sanctuary’s school classroom.  A wheelbarrow is used instead of a gurney, fly-swatters stand in for nurses, electricity comes from a generator and there is no running water.  The temperatures and humidity make the working conditions almost unbearable and the anesthetized animals, as well as the humans at work, are at increased risk of dehydration.

Vet surgeon Dr. Smith explains: “With surgery underway, it became immediately clear that something was wrong.  Manka’s bones should have been hard but instead they were soft and clearly infected. Even in the hospital back in Derby, saving her leg would have been a challenge. But in the rainforest we were in a race to save her life. Our only hope was to amputate her leg above the infection.”

Despite the challenging working conditions, Dr. Redrobe remains optimistic about the outcome of Manka’s surgery.  Avet advisor and Chair of Trustees for Ape Action Africa, she is renowned internationally for her ground-breaking operations on captive gorillas, ranging from eye cataract operation techniques to ground-breaking fertility treatment.

She said: “I am delighted that Twycross Zoo can support Ape Action Africa and I am very grateful to Kinley for helping to perform such challenging surgery at short notice.  Despite complications during surgery, Manka recovered well after the 3-hour operation and was pain free, walking and eating the same day.”

Rachel Hogan, Director, Ape Action Africa said: “Our thanks go to Sharon and Kinley.  Unfortunately, they were unable to save Manka’s leg due to a severe bone infection, but thanks to their rapid response, they saved her life and for that I am extremely grateful.  Manka has adapted very well and is now back in the forest with her family, happily running around and stamping her foot when she wants to get attention.”

Twycross Zoo cares for around 150 species of animals and is the only place in the UK to have every type of great ape (gorilla, orang-utan, chimpanzee and bonobo) and a wide collection of gibbons.  The zoo also supports field projects that focus on the conservation and protection of endangered species such as chimpanzees, and their wild habitat.