Keeping our vets busy Aug 2012

2012 started on a high with Sue Sheward receiving the honour of an MBE in Her Majesty The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List and then visiting Sabah to monitor the Appeal’s activities first hand. The achievement of this award inevitably reflects favourably on the charity and is recognition for all her hard work over many years. At Sepilok Sue was able to see the improvements at the centre, shadowed the vet in the course of his duties and discussed first hand projects for 2012 including the provision of a permanent enclosure / facility for Nonong our ten year old orangutan who lost the use of her left arm following a severe attack of cerebral malaria a few years ago
In the veterinary clinic we have been busier than I can ever remember. The Appeal has signed an agreement with Sabah Wildlife Department to maintain veterinary cover at Sepilok over the next 2-3 years and the recent hectic activity in the centre has highlighted the importance of this action.
We have started the next stage of the Post Release Monitoring project for 2012 and James Robins, our primatologist, had selected six orangutan for release from Sepilok. In February I commenced the surgeries to implant the radio telemetry tracking devices dorsally in the neck of each orangutan.

The surgeries were undertaken in our new operating room at Sepilok and gave us an opportunity to provide practical surgical training for the Appeal sponsored nurse Ibritinah. I am pleased to say that all six operations were completed successfully with all wounds healing within two weeks. The post release monitoring team had been expanded to eight local Malaysian trackers to enable dawn to dusk surveillance of the orangutan once at Tabin and Eyos an adult female was the first to be released.
From a veterinary point of view I have been grateful for the refurbished operating room. This week will see the installation of the final stainless steel surgical cabinets and we soon hope to have a new anaesthetic machine ordered. The room has been put to good use – firstly for the transponder surgeries but also for cases such as Toby’s thumb!
One morning I received an urgent call from our research assistant Victor at the feeding platform  telling me that he had spotted Toby with an injury to his hand.  Toby was brought into clinic and I discovered that he had received a severe bite to his right thumb. The thumb was bitten through its base joint close to the hand and was hanging off. We dressed it, gave antibiotic and pain relief and spent an hour preparing the operating theatre.

The surgery was difficult as I tried to retain as much of the base of thumb function as possible whilst having to remove bone and infected tissue to give a clean wound. We managed to close the wound over with salvaged skin and dose him up with antibiotic and pain killers. The operation took us 1.5 hours. He is an excellent patient and left the wound alone for nearly 5 days (I was just getting confidence that it would heal) when on Sunday morning he had removed all stitches and the bone was exposed. I resutured under local anaesthesia but he removed the visible stitches within two hours. Consequently we performed an even more difficult operation on Monday morning removing more bone and enlarging the incision to try and get adequate closure.
So far he has licked the wound but it has remained closed.
We continue to carry out routine three monthly blood tests on all orangutan in the reserve and at the same time have been struggling to manage a severe virus infection. Luckily we now have the new hygiene regime in place and I am pleased to say that we do not need to modify this in any way.
The virus resulted in two extremely acute illnesses in the younger orangutan and necessitated a week of intensive care for one of the  babies. She needed intravenous infusion therapy over three days and constant nursing even through the night. This again emphasised the importance of Orangutan Appeal providing 24 hour veterinary cover throughout the year; without our veterinary assistance I am convinced that this young orangutan would not have survived.

Last but not least of course, has been the everyday routine veterinary work: Sogo Sogo recently x-rayed after falling whilst being chased by Britt, the management of an unfortunate stillbirth and the ‘normal’ diarrhoea cases, wounds and injuries and health checks on a day to day basis.
All in all an extremely busy time for us all in the clinic area.
Returning volunteers and visitors have commented favourably on the visible progress they can see we are making and we know that through the support of our sponsors we have been able to provide continuity of care, improved standards and cemented relationships at Sepilok. I feel that we are making huge contribution to the Centre and with the continued help of loyal sponsors we will continue to build on our success.
Dr Nigel Hicks BVSc MRCVS
Senior Veterinary Surgeon Orangutan Appeal UK