Eskimo, a reindeer at Edinburgh Zoo has received life-saving surgery just in time for Christmas, making him the first reindeer in history to receive keyhole surgery.

Eskimo, a reindeer at Edinburgh Zoo has received life-saving surgery just in time for Christmas, making him the first reindeer in history to receive keyhole surgery.
Eskimo: the first reindeer in history to receive keyhole surgeryLeading vet Romain Pizzi successfully removed one of Eskimo’s testes, which had been lodged in its abdomen since birth, using specialist surgical instruments donated to the Zoo by one of Ark Surgical’s strategic partners, Surgical Innovations.

The zoo was concerned that the retained testicle may have been developing into a tumour giving off abnormal hormones, and that this could become life-threatening. Thankfully, zoo surgeons were relieved to find that the retained testicle, although abnormally sized, had not yet developed a tumour.
It is believed that the abnormal testicle was affecting Eskimo’s production and flow of testosterone and, as a result, he was showing submissive behaviour and being bullied by the other male reindeer in the herd. He had also started to show some abnormal and delayed antler growth and development. Removing the testicle will halt any abnormal hormone production so hopefully Eskimo will return to full vigour just in time for Christmas.

Gavin O’Brien, director at Ark Surgical said: “We were only too happy to help when Romain mentioned the challenging operation faced by Eskimo and in the season of goodwill we approached Surgical Innovations who kindly donated the instruments for this pioneering surgery.”

Although keyhole (or laparoscopic surgery as its also known) is routine in humans, the standard procedure in animals is still open abdominal surgery. Open abdominal surgery is 20 years behind human medical advances and has a number of negative factors on animals such as more post-operative pain, slower recovery and a higher risk of post-operative complications and infections.
Vet Romain Pizzi undertaking keyhole surgery on Eskimo the reindeerMr Pizzi, a veterinary surgeon for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, based at Edinburgh Zoo, said: “The operation was been a great success and Eskimo has made a speedy recovery. Laparoscopic surgery is still very uncommon in veterinary medicine, even amongst common species such as dogs, cats and horses, so for keyhole surgery to be carried out on a reindeer shows a great advancement in veterinary surgery.”

It is estimated that nearly one out of every two households in the UK are pet owners.  Veterinary surgeons perform on average 600,000 open abdominal procedures annually but it is believed that less than one per cent of them currently practice laparoscopic surgery. However, Mr Pizzi believes that with the right instrumentation available, UK vets now have more opportunity than ever to introduce laparoscopic techniques as part of their operating procedures.

He said: “This procedure was only really possible thanks to a cutting-edge designed retractor which we were able to use in this case. Ironically although a reindeer is a reasonably large animal, due to their unique anatomy and massive four chambered stomach that takes up most of the space in the abdomen, there is a very limited internal operating space. For this reason the operation was much more difficult than in a human, or in a dog, where there is more space to work, despite their smaller size.

“We were especially pleased with how quickly Eskimo recovered after surgery, he was standing and happily eating lichen again within 10 minutes of recovery from anaesthesia. He hardly seemed to notice he had even had surgery, although he was still slightly groggy from the anaesthesia. This would simply not have been possible with traditional open abdominal surgery, as the long wound would have been much more painful and debilitating.”



The minimally invasive nature of laparoscopic surgery means there are numerous benefits for animals such as a reduction in post-operative pain, a faster recovery and reduced post-operative care. It also has a decreased risk of infection after surgery and a lower risk of any wound complications. For veterinary surgeons laparoscopic surgery can offer better visualisation of the operated area, allowing them to be more precise and reach areas that are difficult to see in open surgery such as the liver and pelvic canal.
Mr Pizzi carries out laparoscopic operations on dogs, cats and exotic pets at his own veterinary practice Inglis Veterinary Centre (Scotland) and has pioneered several new laparoscopic techniques.
He said: “Laparoscopic surgery has so many benefits for the animal, the veterinary surgeons and the zoo, so there is no reason why it should not be more common practice within veterinary surgery.  I hope Eskimo’s experience helps raise its profile and encourage more veterinary surgeons to look in to it as a standard surgical procedure.”
For more information on animal laparoscopic surgery visit or contact Ark Surgical on 01732 862882.


Video courtesy of Romain Pizzi and
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