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First Brain Surgery Done on Asiatic Black Bear

Update Date: Apr 15, 2013 09:30 AM EDT

ChamPa will forever be famous as the first ever Asiatic Black Bear to undergo invasive brain surgery. ChamPa is a three-year-old bear from a sanctuary in the northern Laos Mountains and has been known for years as the cub born with a large forehead. Although no one at the sanctuary thought anything of it, ChamPa's already quiet and aloof personality became erratic while she started to lose her vision, which led them to believe that she might be suffering form a condition known as hydrocephalus, which means that she has water in her brain causing a constant migraine-like feeling. Due to the culture in Laos, which follows Buddhism, and the laws protecting endangered species, the people at the sanctuary did not and could not put her down.

In Laos, there are wildlife protection laws that protect animals from being killed, which led the people from the sanctuary, which is located 20 miles south of Luang Prabang, to look for other options to save the bear. The bear went through brain surgery, the first ever done on a bear, which lasted six hours. The veterinary surgeon, Pizzi, who practices at the Edinburgh Zoo located in Scotland and is originally from South Africa, performed the invasive procedure that required him to drill a small hole behind her ear in order to confirm the condition.

After using an ultrasound to diagnose her with hydrocephalus, Pizzi inserted a small tube into the brain, which was extended all the way under her skin and to her abdomen. The tube works through an absorption method in which the extra cerebrospinal fluid gets drained via the tube. The bear woke up the day after the surgery and according to the chief executive of Free the Bears, Matt Hunt, she was already "looking like a very different bear."

Hunt speculated "there was a lot more recognition. We can't know if her vision is fully recovered, but everyone certainly believes her vision has improved." ChamPa has also become more active and social a few weeks after the surgery.

The surgery was a huge success, which saved the life of one endangered bear. When it comes to endangered species, the Asiatic black bear is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, every single one counts. 

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