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Hebrew U. Veterinary School Saves Lion in Complicated Surgery

A lion named Samson from a zoo in Rishon LeTzion has been returned to his “home” after undergoing a complex brain operation at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Vet Hospital.
First Publish: 4/5/2005, 1:27 PM / Last Update: 4/4/2005, 4:11 PM

The lion had been very ill and would probably have died if a doctor from the Hebrew University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital had not heard about the case. Dr. Merav Shamir, a specialist in veterinary neurology and neurosurgery at the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine of the Hebrew University Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, diagnosed Samson’s medical problem and operated on him.

“Samson’s illness was brought to my attention after symptoms of damage to his nervous system appeared,” Dr. Shamir said. “I was asked to carry out a neurological examination. I saw that he stood on his legs with difficulty. When he tried to walk, he fell after a few steps. He also had no appetite and appeared generally to be in poor condition. I diagnosed that Samson was suffering from damage to the posterior portion of his skull, which applied pressure on his cerebellum and the upper sector of the spinal cord.”

Dr. Shamir said the type of damage Samson had suffered is known to occur in lions living in captivity. It is expressed in abnormal skull growth, exerting pressure on the rear portion of the brain. Veterinary medicine literature states that this situation is caused due to a vitamin A deficiency.

Even though lions in captivity, including those at the Rishon LeTzion zoo, receive vitamin supplements in their daily food rations, the symptoms that Samson suffered are not totally unknown. In all previous cases of this type, the animal died due to the phenomenon, either because of a lack of proper medical treatment or because of imprecise diagnosis. In most of the cases, the nature of the problem was revealed with certainty only after death.

“We decided to carry out this operation that had never before been performed anywhere,” said Dr. Shamir, “and in doing so we removed part of the thickened skull tissue, thus freeing the tremendous pressure on the rear portion of the brain." The operation lasted six hours.

After the operation, the lion was taken for recovery to his heated enclosure in the Rishon LeTzion zoo. Under the care of the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Limor Miara, and the animal’s caretaker, Samson was able, almost immediately, to again stand on his legs. Samson began to walk steadily and without stumbling, and traces of his previous illness were hard to discern. During the following ten days he received intensive care from the zoo staff, which included special food, antibiotic medicine, vitamin supplements and other “special treatment.”

“The results as they look today are more than we could have expected,” said Dr. Shamir. “Samson is walking around as a fully healthy lion, and our final worry is that the impressive mane which covered his head before the operation should return and cover any traces of our surgical work."

The lion was finally reintroduced to his old cage, with his sister Delilah. “The meeting between Samson and his sister Delilah was joyous and emotional,” said zoo director Betzalel Porat. “Samson now has many visitors. We also received letters from kindergartens and telephone calls inquiring about his welfare. I want to thank the entire staff of the veterinary Hospital of the Hebrew University for their wonderful work."