Myanmar bear with giant tongue saved by veterinarian team

By Ray Downs  |  Updated Oct. 24, 2017 at 9:26 AM
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Oct. 24 (UPI) -- A team of veterinarians traveled to Myanmar to perform surgery on a bear with a tongue so large, it dragged on the floor.

"I've worked with bears for over 10 years and I've never seen anything like it," said Heather Bacon of the University of Edinburgh's royal school of veterinary studies, according to the Guardian. "It's pretty astonishing."

The bear's name is Nyan htoo and he had almost been captured by traffickers who would have sent him to China tobe killed for his gall bladder bile, which is in high demand there for use in traditional medicine. But fortunately for Nyan htoo, monks came to the rescue and took him to a monastery in rural Myanmar. His tongue, which weighed almost 7 pounds, was so large he had to rest his head against the side of his cage to support its weight.

The monks then alerted a local vet who had studied under Bacon. And when she heard about the bear with the rare condition, she came out with a team to operate on Nyan htoo.

Also on the team was Romain Pizzi from Wildlife Surgery International and Caroline Nelson, a veterinary nurse at the Animals Asia Bear Rescue Centre in Vietnam.

The cause of the enlarged tongue is not known for certain, but the vets believe it could have been caused by a parasitic infection carried by mosquitos known as elephantiasis, reported the BBC. But that condition is not known to affect bears.

The veterinarians said the surgery was risky but necessary as Nyan htoo couldn't close his mouth and had to drag around his giant tongue on the floor, which posed hygienic problems.

"This was a really unusual medical condition -- never before seen in any species of bear -- but we weren't about to give up on Nyan htoo," Nelson said, according to the Herald.. "We're delighted that we've been able to improve his quality of life. Now he will be able to eat much more comfortably, sleep in more natural positions and move more freely for the rest of his life."

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