Science and medical technology have made vast improvements over the last decade. Human lives have been changed for the better as our understanding of how the body works increases and better tools are developed to help implement new and innovative discoveries. There is no doubt that advancing medical technology increases our own life spans immeasurably. As we come to greater knowledge, we’re also beginning to translate that better care to our animal kingdom. We’ve seen birds and other creatures benefit from new 3D printing technologies, as well as a number of procedural improvements. Recently, a medical first for an ailing parrot was performed by performing risky but necessary brain surgery. This procedure is currently the first ever performed on a bird.
The kakapo parrot is already classified as a critically endangered species, with a 2018 population assessment of only 149 birds. However, new survival technology employed by conservationists has resulted in 2019 being a banner year for the bird. It is said that 200 eggs were laid and of those, more than 50 chicks have already hatched as of March. One of those chicks was found to have a life-threatening skull deformity when a lump was discovered on the skull. The team that closely monitors these birds in their wild habitats acquired the baby bird when it became old enough to separate it and flew it to a New Zealand hospital for a groundbreaking brain surgery.
Veterinarians from Massey University discovered that the lump was, in fact, the bird’s brain as it herniated against a thin layer of tissue as its only protection. Using known medical procedures, the veterinarian team from several institutions determined that the skull had not fused properly and immediate surgery was essential to the bird living beyond a young age. The team encountered a problem when they were unable to get the herniated tissue back into the skull. A mesh was then applied and fixed to the skull, which served the purpose of reducing the swell. After a time, the team sutured the bird’s skin over the mesh to complete the procedure. The operation was deemed a success and baby Espy was saved by an alert team and a highly skilled staff of veterinarians.
As with all new medical procedures, this surgery will become the precedent for new and future technologies and studies. This is a thrilling and wondrous moment for all birds that might require such brain surgeries even if the issue might be a different one than Espy’s event. As we moved through this still fairly young century, an enlightened and brave world of avian science can move toward providing much needed and urgent care for our birds that might require them. Espy’s successful surgery might even open doors for other animals in the event a potentially life-threatening event might arise. With necessary support and encouragement, every living thing has an equal chance at a new lease on life.
We have every hope and expectation that Espy will grow to be a full adult and produce generations of new kakapo parrots. If the kakapo population expands further, some thanks to the brave teams that healed Espy will be in order.
You can read the Massey University press statement and catch a glimpse of Espy here.