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Victor-y for polar bear helped by firefighters

A health check-up for the country’s oldest and most popular polar bear has been carried out with military precision.

Victor, a visitors’ favourite at the award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park, was in the care of a 30-strong team for a procedure that took more than a month to plan.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue helped lift the 18-year-old, who weighs in at 530kg, into position for a team of specialist vets and dentists to conduct a battery of tests during the appointment.

Victor was anaesthetised for two hours but was back on his feet within half an hour in a successful operation to ensure he was in tip-top condition.

“At YWP we have very high animal welfare standards. We could see that one of Victor’s canine teeth looked a slightly different colour to the rest of his teeth so we wanted to investigate and it was an opportunity to give him a full MOT.  To bring all the specialists together took a month to plan. We are delighted that it all went very well, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team,” said Simon Marsh, Animals Collections Manager at the park, at Branton, near Doncaster.

“Victor was very relaxed and was quickly back to his old self after the two-hour procedure.”

“He has made a full recovery from the experience and initial findings are that he is very well for an 18-year-old bear. We are waiting on the test results from the samples we took from him but we are all happy that Victor is a happy and healthy polar bear.”

The operation began a month ago with the YWP Animal Team, Portland House Veterinary Group (based in Retford), IZVG (International Zoo Veterinary Group based in Keighley) and Zoodent, a specialist animal dentist (based in London) , drawing up a strategy for the first time a polar bear had been anaesthetized at the 100-acre park.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue whose firefighters are trained in using specialist animal rescue equipment was called in for extensive planning on how to move Victor for the vet team to carry out their checks.

The day started at 8.30 am with the veterinary team setting up their kit and the fire service assembling lifting gear.

“Timing was critical as we only had a small window to get Victor moved and in position to allow the vets to get him connected to the anaesthetic machine,” added Mr Marsh.

“Also with over 30 people involved and working in the relatively small area of Victor’s den, we had to make sure people move in and out at the precise time they were needed.”

Kim Wilkins, YWP’s Carnivore Team Leader and Andrew Greenwood, from IZVG, administered the anaesthetic injection to Victor who had been gradually familiarised with the technique so he was relaxed.

“For Victor to be relaxed and trusting enough for us to inject him took months of animal training. Veterinary procedures are out of the ordinary for animals and by keeping Victor calm, it made it safer for him whilst under the anaesthetic” said Ms Wilkins.

Park rangers and the fire service team placed Victor onto a cargo net and lifted him into place.

Specialist dentist Peter Kertesz, of Zoodent, and the veterinary team carried out extensive tests that were completed in under two hours.

“Although we had prepared as much as we could we had no idea how it would go, and if it was even going to be possible, but with excellent team work we quickly and smoothly managed to move Victor,” said Mr Marsh.

“Once he was in positon, the Fire Service moved out and the dentist and vets moved back in to carry out a comprehensive health check, looking at his 42 teeth, joints, feet and claws. We took x-rays, blood samples and swabs for a battery of tests to make sure Victor is in tip top condition.”

“As soon as the vets and dentist had finished their procedures, the Fire Service moved back in and helped the Rangers move Victor back and we could start his recovery. He was back on his feet within half an hour. He was under the anaesthetic for no more than 2 hours and the whole event from start to finish lasted 5 hours”.

“It was handled very professionally and efficiently and YWP is thankful for the expertise and care of the team and would particularly thank South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue for their help.”

Fire Station Manager, Dave Scully said: “This was certainly an unprecedented request for South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue.

“Whilst we wouldn’t routinely use our services in this way, we recognised Yorkshire Wildlife Park’s need for support during this complex operation due to the size of the animal. It meant Victor was able to receive the necessary medical treatment whilst allowing our crews the opportunity to test their skills using specialist animal rescue equipment. A happy ending for all involved!”

The team:

5 Vets
1 Vet Nurse
1 Zoo Dentist
1 Zoo Dental Nurse
11 Firefighters
11 YWP Rangers and Staff

Victor is now happily back out in Project Polar at the Park with the other polar bears, Pixel, Nissan and Nobby.


This content was last updated on January 24th, 2017