Bush surgery to help crippled young kudu

One of the most important factors a wildlife rehabilitator needs to deal with at times is the human factor.  We really do understand animal behaviour extremely well and we learn more each day, but to understand humans is sometimes difficult and extremely complicated.

It is therefore imperative that centres set down a policy on how to deal with issues that come up when humans clearly do not put the interest of injured or orphaned animals first. SanWild’s trust deed therefor makes provision that we may purchase animals to get them out of bad situations if everything else fails.

We were first alerted by a member of the public that a young hand reared kudu calf was offered up for sale.

SanWild does not condone or support the keeping of wild animals as pets and we knew that most hand-reared wild herbivores; especially the males of large species such as kudu, eland or blue wildebeest will eventually, when they reach sexually maturity become extremely dangerous and a number of people have been killed in our immediate area by hand reared animals.

It is therefore essential to hand rear wildlife in a manner that they do not become imprinted on humans so that they can be returned to the wild asap.

We contacted the owner immediately and asked if we could buy the young animal and return it to the wild.  He agreed and early the next day we were on-route to Makhado (Louis Trichardt) to collect the young kudu and bring her to SanWild.

Upon arrival, we were horrified to find a badly crippled young kudu calf in a camp littered with farm equipment and rubbish.  During the time, she was being hand reared by her owner, she jumped into a fence and broke her one front leg.  The injury was left untreated and although the leg had eventually grown on, it was set in such a way that the young animal could never be returned to the wild.

She was just adorable and incredibly loving and moved around the best she could.  It broke our hearts to know that had this injury been treated when it happened she could have lived a full productive life.

Our negotiations with her owner to have her donated instead of paying a hefty price for her failed dismally.  We tried unsuccessfully to reason with him; telling him that it was highly unlikely anyone would pay for her.  All we managed to do was to anger him to the point where he threatened to take a gun and shoot her and although we realised that this was out and out emotional blackmail, we could not leave the young animal with this horrid man.

We paid him and left with the young animal.

We arrived back at SanWild a couple of hours later with a young kudu that seems to be delighted to be in a nice clean enclosure instead of the filthy rubbish dump she had live in up to now.  Early the next morning we contact our veterinarian that arrived about two hours later.  As we sat down in the office after the initial examination the atmosphere was positive and there was excitement in the air.

Despite the initial setback the prognosis to repair the crippled leg was good and if surgery and post-operative care was successful this young animal would live a normal life in the wild.  The vet was up for the challenge and so we were.

Innovative new techniques were going to be tried.  Not too much was available to us way back in 2003 when this surgery took place.

The young animal had no idea what was going to happen and we felt rotten that she would once again had to endure pain and discomfort, but there are times when one simply must work through this emotional discomfort.

She was darted and prepped for surgery.  Her leg would be surgically broken again and reset in the correct position.  Unfortunately, at this stage it is a matter of trial and error and nerves were shot.  Bush surgery had lots of risks and infection, but we had no other option.  There were not too many veterinary clinics that could perform this type of high tech surgery yet.

Once the leg had been reset a cast made from PVC piping would be used to keep the leg in place until it had set properly.  To get the PVC piping to fit the animals leg it would be heated and molded by hand to fit perfectly.

Fortunately, all went well and the young animal came through surgery like a champion.  The prognosis was good that the leg would be fine in about 6 to 8 weeks.