Vet nurse involved in pioneering operation to save puma’s life
Last Updated: 17/10/2023
A vet nurse has spoken of her pride at helping save a puma which faced being put to sleep.
Caroline Blake, head nurse at Byre Vets in Peterborough, part of the My Family Vets network, was part of a five-strong team involved in a major operation to amputate the leg of nine-year-old Nigel at Lincolnshire Wildlife Park.
The five-hour procedure was carried out not in a sterile theatre but on bales of straw in the animal’s enclosure with lions roaring close by.
But the successful operation has left Nigel pain-free and Caroline and the team have been overwhelmed by messages of thanks from fans of the park’s star attraction.
Read more: The vets helping local wildlife
The puma had developed such extreme arthritis in the elbow that euthanasia would have been the only option had the procedure not been considered.
Caroline, who joined Byre in 2018, has an exotics certificate and has dealt with a wide variety of different species. She has worked extensively with specialist exotics vet Sarah Pellett and was asked to be part of the surgical team.
It also included vets Iain Cope and James Cook and vet nurse Shannon Grimwood.
“I’ve been involved with lots of weird and wonderful things and been on zoo visit checks, but I’ve never had anything like a big cat,” said Caroline.
“And everything has been at a practice, with all the usual facilities.
“Safety was obviously paramount, and Nigel was darted and properly down before we went anywhere near him.
“Our operating table was hay bales stacked three high with a white sheet on top.”
Caroline clipped and prepped the puma, helped with placing the drip and acted as theatre nurse during the lengthy procedure.
And she says it was far from a normal theatre experience.
“There were flies and spiders around and when we finally finished, I could hear lions roaring in the enclosure next door. But during the procedure it was actually strangely normal as you are only focused on the patient and helping the vets.”
Lincolnshire Wildlife Park chief executive Steve Nichols spent the next 12 sleepless hours monitoring the puma until it finally came round in the early hours of the following morning.
The improvement in mobility was almost immediate with the animal moving around its enclosure much more freely and comfortably.
And a follow-up meeting a few weeks later found it had been going from strength to strength both physically and mentally.
"It got to the point where we had to say we have two options here — he either gets euthanised, or we give him a chance of life," said Mr Nicholl.
"There were a lot of people rooting for him and if we had chosen the other method, I think people would have hunted me down.”
The puma is so loved, supporters crowdfunded almost £5000 towards his treatment and around 13,000 followed the progress on the park’s Facebook page.
“Nigel is like a local hero, and we’ve had so many people getting in touch to say we’ve saved him,” added Caroline.
“I feel a huge sense of pride for being part of this and my dad came round to give me a hug and say he was so proud of everything I’d done.”