Tiger Wounded by Poacher to Get Prosthetic Paw in Landmark Operation

A tiger saved from a poacher's trap by Indian animal rescuers, will be the first of its kind to receive a prosthetic paw.

The Telegraph reports that the tiger named Sahebrao underwent a preliminary surgery to prepare his leg for the prosthesis on September 9. He was sedated and his paw was cleaned and measured.

Production of an artificial foot is expected to take several weeks, after which the final surgery will occur to attach it.

Sahebrao was rescued from a trap in India's Chandrapur in 2012 along with his brother. Suffering from renal failure and gangrene, he was brought to the Maharashtra Animal and Fisheries Science University for medical care. His brother did not survive, but Sahebrao recovered after three of his toes were amputated.

He was then transferred to the Wildlife Rescue Centre in Nagpur's Gorewada Zoo, where he has lived for the past six years.

According to the South China Morning Post, Sahebrao earned a reputation for being ill-tempered and ornery there. In 2016, orthopedic surgeon Sushrut Babhulkar began to take an interest in the cat after visiting the zoo. He felt that the tiger's disposition was caused by physical pain, and floated the idea of creating a prosthetic for the animal.

Royal Bengal tiger
Royal Bengal tiger Julio Ricco / Getty Images

"Being an orthopaedic surgeon, I have seen amputations in human beings. There is a distinct phenomenon that humans experience especially after a crush injury," he told News 18. "When a limb, hand or foot gets crushed, even though we amputate that portion out, the patient keeps feeling that the crushed portion is attached to the body and he/ she keeps experiencing pain. I realized Sahebrao must have been going through something similar."

Fitting prosthetics to a wild animal poses a significant challenge, especially in their extremities. Surgeons worry that Sahebrao will find a way to remove the artificial paw and undo all of their hard work.

Zoo officials reached out to University of Leeds professor Peter Giannoudis, an expert in bone regeneration, to consult on the procedure. He expects to be on site for the final operation later this year.

The team is also working with consultants from Germany's AO Foundation, which specializes in bone repair in both humans and animals. In May 2018, AO veterinary professor Bruno Peirone conducted a surgery where he repaired the rear right tibia of a golden tabby tiger belonging to an Italian animal trainer, so their expertise in big cat bones was essential.

Although this will be the first external prosthetic fitted for a tiger, there have been other operations of this type. In 2011, an eight-year-old Malayan tiger named Girl was given an artificial hip by surgeons at the University of Leipzig and lived for several years.