Mango the bear rests on a bed as zoo veterinarians and staff prepare him for surgery in the Ramat Gan Zoological Center's animal hospital near Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 7, 2014.
Zookeepers at the Ramat Gan Zoological Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, have noticed for weeks that its veteran bear, Mango, suffered symptoms of paralysis in his hind legs. Then, last week, Mango could hardly stand up.
But instead of euthanizing Mango, the zoo called in Israel's top veterinary expert, Merav Shamir, to perform back surgery on the 19-year-old Syrian Brown Bear, according to reports by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the Associated Press.
Mango, who has lived at the zoo his entire life, underwent several hours of surgery at the center's animal hospital on Wednesday after X-rays revealed that he had a herniated disc between his second and third vertebrae. Shamir, a veterinarian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Mango is the largest animal she ever operated on.
It took 15 zoo employees to place the 550-pound Mango on the operating table, and because the herniated disc was in a hard-to-reach location, the surgery team spent five hours just exposing Mango's spine for surgery, according to Sagit Horowitz, a spokesperson for the zoo.
"He could live many more years and he should live them comfortably," Horowitz said to Haaretz.
This isn't the first time that a bear has gone under the knife — but this specific situation is far from common. On May 1, officials at the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife found and captured a black bear with an arrow piercing in its nose, mouth and jaw. Dr. Steven Hodes of Mine Hill, New Jersey, removed the arrow from the black bear, who was released shortly after surgery, according to the Star-Ledger.
Only time will tell whether Mango's surgery was successful; spinal disc herniation is considered a very painful condition for humans, but its frequency is unknown among bears. It occurs when the disc — a spongy, absorbing substance — bulges out between the vertebrae or ruptures. If the disk touches a nearby nerve, it will cause pain wherever the nerve travels in the body.
Mango will undergo more tests in the days to come to tell if his spine is healing.