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Complications force officials to euthanize tiger

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:56 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sulley, the 400-pound Bengal tiger that came to MU’s Veterinary School last month for a groundbreaking six-hour surgery to correct bone deformations in his right leg, was euthanized Saturday after succumbing to post-surgical complications.

The 3-year-old tiger was euthanized near Keenesburg, Colo., at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, which had been his home for more than two years.

“Everyone who knew Sulley and worked with him is just ... devastated,” said the sanctuary’s spokeswoman, Toni Scalera, her voice breaking.

Sulley’s malnourishment and abuse by previous owners prompted his rescue by the sanctuary more than two years ago. His leg deformities and resulting pain and arthritis prompted the sanctuary’s veterinarian to contact MU’s veterinary school and a team of doctors to perform surgery. The March 21 surgery, which was the first of its kind to be performed on a tiger, aimed to straighten the tiger’s front leg which were deformed as a result of abuse as a cub.

Though the operation was cautiously deemed a success, Sulley’s condition deteriorated in the few weeks following the surgery.

University of Missouri officials said Sulley’s “weight and size contributed to failure of the orthopedic hardware during the recovery period,” resulting in the need to euthanize him.

Several companies donated equipment to help with the surgery and recovery. ProtoMED, of Arvada, Colo., provided custom anatomical models of the affected bones, and Synthes USA, located in West Chester, Pa., provided bone plates and screws for the surgery.

“Sulley’s bright and indomitable spirit has forged a bond among those who strove to save his life,” said Pat Craig, executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary. “The hope is that Sulley’s story will be an inspiration for many to join together to work tirelessly to educate Americans about the tragic plight suffered by thousands of captive exotic animals, and to ensure that future generations of these magnificent creatures can live in peace and dignity, as they were born to do.”

“Sulley was a magnificent member of an often mistreated and misunderstood species,” said Derek Fox, assistant professor of small animal surgery and associate director of the Comparative Orthopedic Laboratory. “He and thousands of others like him in this country deserve better than this. Hopefully, his story will awaken people to the plight of privately owned, captive wild animals that are so often exploited and suffer at the hands of human entertainment for monetary gain.”

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is “the largest sanctuary in the country for big cats,” Scalera said.


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