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Chimp has emergency ear surgery

Sunday 13 Jun 2010 5:29 p.m.

By Laura Frykberg

Surgery to cure a chimpanzee’s ear infection has been conducted in a world first at Wellington Zoo.

Cara the chimp has had the condition for almost five years which, if left untreated, could be life-threatening.

The playful 28-year-old chimp has been a resident at the zoo for 18 years.

“Chimps are self-medicating, so she was putting sticks in her ear, trying to fix something,” says primate keeper Vimal Patel.

The chronic ear infection, if left untreated, could have meant a life-threatening abscess close to her brain.

“We’ve really exhausted all other possible methods of dealing with this,” says head vet Francois Lampen.

“The only way to do it now is to actually do surgical intervention.”

The surgery will remove Cara’s inner ear organs, leaving her partially deaf – but hopefully infection free.

The operation is risky.

“There are a lot of nerves in the area so it’s very important, one should be careful, if you cut through those nerves you can cause facial complications such as paralysis,” says Mr Lampen.

Cara’s keeper’s only concern is the reaction of other chimps, once she’s back in her enclosure.

“There is a small chance they will pull the stitches out,” says Mr Patel.

“It’s quite common for chimps to groom and fix each other. But that’s the worst we’re expecting.”

After five hours of surgery Cara emerged and the operating surgeon, Dr Rebecca Garland, confirms the procedure was a success.

“The surgery went really well. I think we got all the disease out and managed to patch things up together nicely,” she says.

It is hope Cara will return to her enclosure in a few days.

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