Well I can finally reveal one of my big highlights of coronavirus. I have been very lucky to be the local vet responsible for the Welsh Mountain Zoo and while the visitors have not been allowed in the animals still need looking after.  I have been treated like a queen having private tours and the undivided attention of the keepers (with social distancing being observed at all times) and I have learnt loads. It’s so weird to realise that Zoo animals suffer from the same problems as normal animals and in fact the same disease as humans!

The joke could be what do you call a sea lion with no eyes?  A “sea lon” – however it is actually a serious thing Roonie the California sea lion had started missing catching fish which is actually how she feeds. For anyone that has ever been to the Welsh Mountain Zoo you will know the sea lions are born entertainers and the keepers work really hard stimulating and working them and thankfully they used this training to my benefit. The keepers worked really hard to get Roonie used to having things done to her eyes which were actually painful. Sizewise Roonie is about 75kg which is bigger than your average Rottweiller and at the end of the day Roonie is a wild animal with teeth and an animal in pain can be unpredictable like a rottie.  At the practice we would have things like muzzles and extra staff but thanks to the keepers I was able to get really close to Roonie and examine her eyes. Again thanks to her keepers Roonie was diagnosed with cataracts and it was arranged that she would have surgery to remove it.

Despite it being tough financial time the Zoo organised for a top team of experts to do the operation and politely invited me although they did say they understood that I might be busy at the practice there was no way I was missing the op and Zoozilla was born. In full Zoozilla style I pushed myself forward and got front row viewing of the op.

Claudia Hartley a European specialist ophthalmologist and head of ophthalmology at Langford Vets at the University of Bristol performed the operation and honestly removing the cataract she was quicker than me doing a castrate!

Harvey and Karen are both vets that deal exclusively with exclusively zoo and exotic wild animals.  They work for the International Zoo Vet Group and have had loads of experience with the animals at the Zoo and ran the military operation of anaesthetising Roonie.

The operation itself was slightly over an hour but there was quite a bit of planning involved. There are 4 sea lions at the Zoo and as it was still during Coronavirus the vets and keepers stood outside and socially distanced. We stood outside the sea lion pool and discussed the case, but while we were doing it Casper the large male kept swimming past chilling out and relaxing trying to entertain us. Casper had been a good model as his eyesight had been normal I was able to look at him and compare to Roonies’ and again he just loved the attention.

Again comparing Roonie with a rottie the process for the op was similar in that both would have an injection first which was a sedative to make them sleepy, then a tube is placed down their throat which breaths and gives the animal on going anaesthetic, so apart from bigger equipment the process is the same. At the practice the biggest tube we have is a size 14 Roonies tube was a size 18! But after the operation Roonie did have dog pain relief!

Having seen how some of my patients recover after anaesthetics it was great to watch Roonie as she recovered really nicely but you could tell that she as a strong bond with her keepers as she kept responding to their voices and moving over to where they were which was obviously less stressful for her. I am pleased to say that Roonie recovered very well and I have seen her several times after and her eye has been open and comfortable, It really was a privilege to get close with her and watch the operation. Obviously the experience won’t be as amazing as what I have been able to do but I can’t recommend enough for anyone to book a Zoo Keeper Experience for the day with the Welsh Mountain Zoo once coronavirus is over. You can do it with the sea lions and they are so clever and love the attention, I have learnt lots.

Disclaimer alert Actually all our rottie clients are lovely but artistic license the story wouldn’t have been so good using a 2kg Chihuahua that has savaged me!

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