The Lion King Chronicles

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns – Aug 8, 2019

This week, on the adventures of Hanna and Chantel, we bring you the conclusion of the neuter surgery on Simba. We arrived at the farmer’s house with a newly refurbished surgery including a familiar catheter (or three, just in case), two insulated hot water bottles to keep his core temperature up, a scale to accurately weigh him, and dry towels and blankets to cushion him during surgery. We set up our “surgery suite” for the second time, gave a higher dose of sedative (xylazine), placed the catheter without issue, and injected with the newly calculated dose of anaesthetics (propofol and ketamine). This time, Simba went down without a hitch and we proceeded with the neuter. Dr. Daniel Muasya carefully dissected the granulation tissue that had once been the scrotum, followed the spermatic cords and soon discovered that one of the testicles dropped off due to the banding. When we originally examined Simba both testicles were clearly palpable in the scrotum that was banded, and palpation and exploration during surgery resulted in only one. He isolated the single intact testicle and spermatic cord, which he ligated (sutured) before tackling the free cord and traumatized tissue. The ligations of both cords ensured the cessation of blood flow and we were free to snip off the testicle and close the incision to complete the neuter. We closed in two layers; the subcutaneous layer followed by the skin. Chantel scrubbed in to assist with handing off instruments and the final suturing, while Hanna monitored vitals and mixed new anaesthetic drugs to administer, or “top up,” when necessary. While we managed to keep Simba at a surgical plane of anaesthesia, he still metabolized the drugs faster than expected. We checked him regularly for signs of getting too light and top up was always on hand! He maintained stable vitals and responded quickly when we administered more anaesthesia. When we were happy with the final results we removed any blood from the surrounding skin and hair and sprayed the site with an antibiotic spray to deter licking and prevent flies from being attracted to the area.

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(PIC 1: Second time is the charm)

We also gave a long acting injectable antibiotic to ward off infection and an anti-inflammatory for pain. Although the surgery and anaesthesia weren’t as smooth as they would be under gas and there was no sterile surgical suite, overall the field procedure was a success and Simba recovered without issue. The hot water bottles proved very helpful as his core temperature never dropped below 37 degrees Celsius (normal is 38-39 degrees Celsius) and he was up and walking around before we even left the farm. We asked the farmer to keep him in a clean enclosed area for the next few days, explained what to look for in regards to infection and asked him to call us if anything at all seemed “off” or if he had any other questions. After 2 days of not hearing from him, we called to check in and Simba was doing great! There were no signs of infection and he was eating and drinking normally- we were happy.

Monday’s surgery was an awesome way to start the week, and after more days of visiting farmers and collecting data, we began our last long weekend adventure in Kenya. Daniel left to attend a conference in Ethiopia so we used the time to explore. Our entire crew dashed off to Naivasha to do some hiking, sight-seeing and, our favourite, animal watching!!! Upon our arrival in the city, the first thing we did was get coffee at the mall’s Java House to refuel and then settle into our accommodations. The next day we visited Hell’s Gate National Park, which acted as the inspiration for a little film called The Lion King (don’t know if you’ve heard of it) but upon entering the gates we could immediately see why. There were high rock faces with warthogs, zebras, water buffalo and gazelles grazing and foraging the grassy savannah at their bases. Our first stop within the park was the beautiful Gorge where a ranger took us on a hike up, down and through the most beautiful landscape we’d ever seen in our lives. As we walked, we touched both walls and craned our necks upward to take in the full scale of where we were. The final stop was “The Devil’s Bedroom” and the rock formations were absolutely out of this world!

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(PIC 2: Feeling a little small along the wall)

We were then brought along another route to see six famous hot springs that range from lukewarm to scalding hot and we were again mesmerized by what the earth can really do. At the end of the hike was a large Maasai market where we picked up many souvenirs but Chantel also thoroughly enjoyed the free market of obsidian, a jet black volcanic rock formed by the rapid cooling of lava without crystallization and a big part of the Hell’s Gate landscape. After we finished the hike we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing in the cloudy blue water of the hot spring pool. The locals call it a spa and we totally get why; the mineral water coated our skin and made it feel alive again! It was the perfect way to finish up our day and reset our minds and bodies before another day of adventure.

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(PIC 3: Spa day anyone?)

Rather than stay at a resort by the lake, we opted to stay in Naivasha city and it is amazing to see the parallels between that and rural life here in Kenya. In a city of over 90, 000 people, Naivasha residents are still accustomed to seeing animals- like goats, cows and donkeys- wandering free on the streets. As we walked to the market in the morning, no one batted an eye at a Holstein who trotted down the sidewalk as though she owned the place, or a goat that scavenged on the corner. Although we have grown accustomed to seeing these types of things in our rural town of Kiirua we didn’t expect it here.

The next day we got up extra early for a boat ride on Naivasha Lake. Now, no regular boat ride would get us out of bed early on vacation, but this one was to see one of Chantel’s absolute favourite animals, the hippos! We met up with our boat Captain, Dan, and jetted onto the lake to witness wonderful species of birds flying around us and admire all the brave fishermen suspended on half submerged trees in the hippo infested waters! Within minutes, we saw our first hippo wading in the shallow water by the shore. Captain Dan had an arsenal of hippo facts including the fact that they actually walk along the lake bottom rather than swim, hence they’re commonly found close to shore. And did you know that they can hold their breath for up to five minutes at a time? It was such a treat to see their eyes, nostrils and twitchy ears peeping out at the surface of the calm, blue water, and we were even lucky enough to watch two of them lumber close to shore to rest in the sunshine.

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(PIC 4:Happy Happy Hippos)

According to Captain Dan, these “giant water pigs,” as we like to call them, are “ not violent, they’re just extremely aggressive.” This made us chuckle but also clutch our life vests a little bit tighter. He went on to explain that a hippo will not charge you if you keep your distance and respect their territory, but if you disturb them while they’re taking a five minute nap or protecting their young, for example, these intimidating herbivores will have no problem taking you on. Luckily, the boat drivers in the lake are trained to read the hippo’s body language and we were lucky enough to see a whole family of seven or more all peering through the water and checking out the situation. After taking in what we’re sure was only half of what Navaisha Lake had to offer, we were dropped off at Crescent Island – a privately owned game park. This is a unique place that is void of predators so visitors are allowed to freely roam amongst the wildlife.  We started off with a picnic lunch at the top of a hill overlooking a herd of zebras. Herds of gazelles and wildebeests stampeded across rolling hills and we then climbed a tree and watched some water buffalo rest by the water.

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(PIC 5: You know we could not resist climbing the nearest tree)

We marvelled at large flocks of pelicans and walked amongst a family of giraffes before watching monkeys swing and chase one another through the trees. To say it was a surreal experience is an understatement, and it made the sunburns that we got 100% worth it!

Because we had cooked dinner at our accommodations the night before, we decided to go out for dinner on our last night. We exhilarated our taste buds with some delicious food (once the power returned to the restaurant) and reminisced about the weekend we just had! You never know what to expect when you book a weekend get away and then make plans as you go but it would be impossible to choose a highlight of this trip. Each experience left us amazed and humbled. However, nothing is perfect and our unbelievable luck came to a halt when we found ourselves in quite the traffic jam on the way home. One of the weigh scales was down and there were miles and miles of trucks at a dead stop. Luckily for us, in Kenya the designated ‘road’ is more of a suggested route and any vehicle that did not need to pass over the scale hit the dirt. We were literally off-roading through the savannah and following a caravan of cars and bikes all taking their own unique route to get past the jam. After a solid few hours of bopping around in our vehicle, we made it back to the tarmac and proceeded to a smooth safe ride back home.

Once at home, we met up with our London friends from the wedding and filled them in on our weekend. We gave them travel recommendations based on our experiences as well. We also got to hear about their work and stay with their host family. Sometimes it’s a relief to speak in English to other English-as-a-first-language people without worrying about miscommunication, and it’s always a pleasure to make new international friends. This world is smaller than it seems and you never know when a reunion opportunity may come about! We laughed about shared stories of generous gifts of fruit, eggs and tea and our struggles navigating some of the cultural differences. After catching up, we said goodbye to our friends and made it to the market in the nick of time to pick up groceries for the rest of the week. The Sunday market is always bustling and the energy in the air is contagious. We are fully pumped to finish out our last two weeks here in Meru County, and we plan to continue optimizing every day. And as always, we will keep you all updated on our adventures!

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(PIC 6: Are we in the Lion King?)