It’s pretty widely accepted that the wildlife in Australia is like nowhere else; everything is bigger, scarier, and more dangerous. Which makes the veterinarians who dedicate their lives to helping said animals either extremely brave, or kind of stupid.
In a recent episode of the TV series Bondi Vet, Dr. Chris Brown is called to a wildlife sanctuary in Townsville, where a large 45-year-old saltwater crocodile named Riley has been experiencing enormous pain and discomfort due to a hole in his jaw.
“The fact is whether you’re dealing with a crocodile’s mouth, a dog’s mouth, or a human’s mouth, you have a lot of bacteria,” says Brown. “In Riley’s case, with a whole like that, my concern is a serious infection could be taking hold of his body.”
Catching a croc is never easy. One with a sore tooth is an even bigger challenge.
Brown recruits the staff at the sanctuary to help him secure Riley so that he can perform a proper examination, while keeping the crocodile calm enough to avoid “capture syndrome”, a build-up of lactic acid caused by stress which can lead to organ failure.
They begin by securing ropes around the upper portion of Riley’s jaw, but he goes into a series of “death rolls” which tangle the ropes and put him at risk of strangulation. Once they have him safely restrained, they cover his eyes with a towel and then all hold him down while his mouth is taped securely shut.
Brown gives Riley an enormous dose of muscle relaxant in order to help lower his stress levels, but it takes a full 10 minutes before the 4-meter crocodile shows any effects. They then have to transfer him onto a board and rope him down. “Even though Riley is sedated, it’s important to remember he’s not anaesthetized, he’s actually still conscious, and still capable of an explosive outburst at any time,” says Brown.
Once a pipe is fixed between the crocodile’s jaws and he can get close enough to examine him, Brown soon sees there are large fragments of teeth in the hole.
“Because crocodiles can replace each and every one of their teeth up to 50 times during their life, what’s happened here is Riley has tried to replace a tooth that just hasn’t fallen out yet,” he explains. “He hasn’t just done it once, he’s done it multiple times.”
After injecting Riley with local anaesthetic, and removing three massive teeth and multiple fragments from the hole, Brown still isn’t done; there is one more tooth to be removed. As each new tooth a crocodile grows is larger the last, this is the largest yet—and it takes real work to prise out. Brown then cleans out the hole and administers an injection of antibiotics, but that is not the end of the matter. They then have to go through the process of releasing Riley back into his enclosure, after he has endured an incredibly stressful treatment.
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