Bear in Myanmar has giant tongue removed by team of vets

A bear had emergency surgery to remove its tongue after it became so heavy that it lolled out of his mouth and dragged along the floor.

Vets believe that the bizarre swelling, which weighed 3kg (6.5lb), was without precedent.

“I’ve worked with bears for over 10 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Heather Bacon from the University of Edinburgh’s royal school of veterinary studies. “It’s pretty astonishing.”

Nyan htoo, an Asiatic black bear – more commonly known as a moon bear because of a golden crescent on the chest – was rescued by monks after he had been taken away from his mother by Burmese traffickers to send to China, where there is huge demand for bile from bears’ gall bladders to use in traditional medicine.

Seeing that his tongue was abnormally large, the monks contacted a local vet who had studied in Sheffield who, in turn, alerted Bacon. Along with several other specialist vets, she travelled to a monastery rescue centre in rural Myanmar, about four hours from Yangon, early this month.

Since the bear is less than two years old, vets think that the affliction could have been a congenital problem or elephantiasis, a parasitic infection carried by mosquitos that has never been reported to have affected bears or other animals.

Vets had been out to see him last year and tried to remove some of the excess tissue to ease the swelling but over time the tongue extended, which meant they had to undertake a more aggressive procedure.

“We had a lot of discussion and debate because it’s a major surgery that you cannot undo but we felt in terms of his quality of life it was the best way to give him as normal a life as possible,” continued Bacon.

“Having to carry around 3kg of tongue is not normal and that’s a lot of weight on his jaw and head. Also, since he was dragging it around on the floor, from a hygiene point of view it’s pretty unpleasant and he couldn’t ever close his mouth. Now he should be able to close his mouth and manipulate food.

“It’s likely he’ll have a period of learning and adaptation because he’s obviously never experienced this before.”

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