Operation Sahebrao: Procedure to give prosthetic limb to tiger fails due to ‘natural reflex’

Vivek Deshpande
Operation Sahebrao, tiger prosthetic limb operation fails, nagpur news, maharashtra news, indian express news

Nine-year-old Sahebrao after the surgery.

An operation to fix an artificial limb on a tiger failed on Saturday with the big cat easing its foot out of the limb minutes before regaining consciousness. Doctors have claimed that it was the first-ever procedure of its kind across the world.

A team of doctors, led by Peter Giannouedis of the University of Leeds, managed to fix the limb successfully after applying anesthesia to nine-year-old Sahebrao’s front left limb. The limb was amputated in 2012 after gangrene due to injury caused to the tiger by a poacher’s trap near Gondmohadi village in Chandrapur district, from where the feline was rescued.

However, Sahebrao’s natural reflex to shrink skeletal muscles — found exclusively in the cat family — came into play minutes before the tiger regained consciousness and the prosthetic limb was separated, according to Sudhir Babhulkar, noted orthopaedic surgeon from Nagpur, who has adopted the tiger since 2016 and has been spearheading the campaign with international collaboration.

“We couldn’t anticipate the possibility of skeletal muscle shrinking. Sahebrao was about 95 per cent out of anesthetic effect when he suddenly started striking the prosthetic limb on the ground. Cats have the ability to shrink their skeletal muscles to be able to wriggle out of any trap. Sahebrao apparently used that even before he could stand up,” Babhulkar told the media. “But as we had previously stated, the success of the operation always depended heavily on how much Sahebrao was willing to accept the foreign object on his body. Today certainly wasn’t the day, “ he said.

However, Babhulkar said, “We would explore another possibility of osseointegration of the limb with the tiger’s leg bone in the near future so that he can’t shake it off.”

Osseointegration involves interlocking between artificial and natural limbs.

Giannoudis called it a “learning experience”. “It was a very difficult project. We need to pay attention to all details. Natural reaction of the animal is to reject foreign body. It’s very much possible in future,” he said.

“We had half won the battle in October last year when we had relieved him of neuroma that had set in in his affected limb, causing him excruciating pain. To that extent, Sahebrao is much happier,” Babhulkar said. “The only thing that remained to be fixed was the shortening of his affected limb by about 3.5 inches,” he said.

The prosthetic limb weighing nearly 1.8 kg was manufactured by Nagpur-based Saket Ortho Rehabilitation with inputs from across the world. The operation began around 10.30 am at the Gorewada Rescue Centre here and was over in about 30 minutes.

Giannoudis was assisted by a team of Nagpur-based government veterinarians led by Shirish Upadhye.