Surgery begins on a first: Artificial limb for Nagpur tiger

Vivek Deshpande
Sahebrao had been rescued from a poacher’s trap in Gondmohadi village in Chandrapur district in 2012.

A TEAM of experts, including from the Forest Department and the University of Leeds, has begun an operation to fix a prosthetic limb to a tiger in captivity. If all goes well over the next three-four weeks, experts say, this would be the first instance in the world where a tiger would get an artificial limb.

On Wednesday, local veterinarians, and orthopaedics and prosthetic limb expert from the University of Leeds, Peter Giannoudis, carried out a 25-minute surgical procedure to relieve the 7-year old tiger Sahebrao of pain on his left front leg.

Sahebrao had been rescued from a poacher’s trap in Gondmohadi village in Chandrapur district in 2012. He had since developed gangrene, and a part of his injured leg had to be amputated in a surgery carried out in Nagpur. Since then, he has been living in captivity at the Wildlife Rescue Centre in Nagpur’s Gorewada Zoo.

In 2016, Nagpur-based orthopaedic surgeon Sushrut Babhulkar decided to adopt the tiger. Since then, he had been working on the possibility of a prosthetic procedure to fix an artificial limb for the tiger. Subsequently, Babhulkar engaged with experts abroad, and the University of Leeds became a partner in the initiative.

“We had completed the first phase of the project with a radiographic study of his limb in February. On Wednesday, the second phase of the operation was started. Sahebrao was operated for neuroma and arthritis that was causing neuralgia (pain in the nerve),” Babhulkar told The Indian Express.

“Now we will be able to fix the prosthetic limb within 3-4 weeks... the limb will be manufactured in Nagpur. We have taken all the necessary measurements,” he said.

“I wish to see him walk normally, like a human being getting a prosthetic leg, for the rest of his life,” he said.

Asked if experts from Leeds would come for the final phase of the operation, Babhulkar said: “Yes. There are some experts who have a vast experience of such operations on human beings.”

Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar, Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra’s Managing Director Rambabu and other senior officials supervised Wednesday’s operation performed by a team led by Shirish Upadhye.