By MEGAN HARTLEY, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - The novel spine operation intended to save the life of a rare baby penguin failed and resulted in the eventual death of the penguin, officials at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore said Wednesday.
The male African penguin had undergone surgery five weeks ago to correct a vertebrae misalignment that caused him to stumble and hunch forward. The surgery used wire and bone cement to realign his vertebrae and was the first of its kind for a penguin.
"It was the first time that any kind of spinal surgery has been performed on penguin," said Leah Kintner, the zoo's avian collection and conservation manager. "We just hope that in the future what we learned from this initial case will help penguins in ours and other facilities down the line."
Zoo veterinarians were keeping the penguin confined in a small pen so that he would not hurt himself while recovering from the surgery. Every once in a while they would let him out to "splash about" in a tub of water, said Carol Bradford, a zoo veterinarian.
A hospital supervisor checked in on 1063 - the name he was given from his identification tag - a little after midnight and he seemed fine, according to Bradford. But when a zoo veterinarian came in around 7 a.m. Friday to check on him, he was dead.
The death was a bit of a surprise to the zoo veterinarians, Bradford said. Often it takes a long while to recover from spinal surgeries and veterinarians had seen a small improvement in his mobility.
Bradford suspects his death was not a direct consequence of the surgery but rather the stress of being confined inside and injured.
"The spinal condition was a severe condition," said Bradford. "Being kept indoors and away from other penguins is stressful."
The penguin will undergo a necropsy - an autopsy for an animal - to determine the exact cause of death.
The Maryland Zoo's colony of the precocious birds - nicknamed "jackass" for their distinctive call resembling a donkey's - is the largest of its kind in the U.S. The African Penguin is found in South Africa and is the only penguin to breed in Africa. According to the International Penguin Conservation Work Group the population of African Penguins is 10 percent of what it was in 1900 due mainly to oil spills, the harvesting of their eggs and the over-fishing of their food source such as anchovies and sardines. They are listed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union.
Maryland Zoo's Baby Penguin Gets Novel Operation