Rachel Perry from Grove Lodge Vets in Sussex, UK, has been all the way to India to treat the teeth of rare sloth bears in the shadows of the Taj Mahal.
A British vet with a special interest in dentistry has travelled all the way to India to treat the teeth of rare sloth bears.
Rachel Perry, of Grove Lodge Veterinary Group, West Sussex, was invited out to the Agra Bear Rescue Facility in India by charity International Animal Rescue to help inspect and treat the bears’ teeth, as well provide veterinary dental education for local vets.
At the sanctuary, which is just a few kilometres north of the Taj Mahal, volunteers safely house around 300 of the bears, which were often used as dancing animals before the practice was outlawed in 1972. However, the bears are still classified as “vulnerable” and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species regulations, as they are threatened by habitat loss and hunters.
The bears often have severe dental problems as, to make them “safer” to handle for poachers, young cubs have their teeth broken with a hammer, and, using a hot poker, a rope or ring is placed through their nose and muzzle. These broken teeth then quickly become severely infected with root abscesses.
Miss Perry said she “jumped at the chance” to be involved in the project.
“The anaesthetic gases, tubes, and x-rays we used are very similar to the ones used for dogs and cats at Grove Lodge – but we don’t normally have to blow-dart them first,” she said.
“Some of the bears’ teeth had been damaged by their original owners for the purposes of dancing – the canines would be broken off with hammers. Not only is this painful, but also allows infection to enter the root and cause an abscess.
“Sometimes, the teeth were pushed further into the jaw, creating deformed teeth trapped within the bone. Teeth would also wear down naturally due to the ‘sand-blasting’ effect of sucking up termites.”
Miss Perry said she was able to save some larger teeth by performing root canal procedures, while teeth that could not be saved were extracted.
The bears have all made “very smooth” recoveries, she said.