Pioneering surgery for moon bear by Edinburgh vet

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Bear having surgery
Image caption,
The moon bear was operated on in Vietnam

An Asiatic "moon bear" is the first in the world to have a damaged gallbladder removed using keyhole surgery.

The procedure was carried out in Vietnam by Edinburgh Zoo vet Romain Pizzi, the only UK vet specialising in zoo and wildlife keyhole surgery.

He has performed more than 360 procedures in the past four years and has pioneered several new techniques.

Mr Pizzi was asked to operate on the black bear by the charity, Free the Bears.

The bear, called Map-map, is one of nine bears living at the Mekong Delta Bear Sanctuary near Rach Gia in South-west Vietnam.

Map-map was rescued by the Vietnamese Forest Protection Department.

Asiatic black bears are kept for bile farming in Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia, and their bile, which is collected via repeated needle puncture of the gallbladder, is then used in traditional Asian medicines.

Bears that have been previously rescued from bile farms have demonstrated a very high incidence of gallbladder and liver disease related to the practice of "milking" bile.

Keyhole surgery

Up to 47% of bears later died of liver and gallbladder tumours, a consequence of the chronic inflammation and infections caused by invasive bile collection techniques.

Although keyhole surgery is routine in humans, the standard procedure in animals is still open abdominal surgery.

Experts said open abdominal surgery is 20 years behind human medical advances and has a number of negative factors on animals such as large, painful wounds, post-operative pain, slower recovery and a higher risk of post-operative complications and infections.

Mr Pizzi said: "This procedure was only really possible thanks to a cutting-edge designed retractor.

"As laparoscopic cholecystectomy has never been performed on bears before, I hope this experience helps raise its profile and encourage more veterinary surgeons to look into it as a standard surgical procedure."

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