When one of his white tigers needed a vet, Pouakai Zoo owner Bart Hartley called on Scott Hughes and Craig Hassell of the Stratford branch of the Taranaki Veterinary Centre.
Bart knew the vets from when he used to "dairy farm out in Toko" and was happy to keep using them even as he changed from cows to tigers and meerkats. He told the Stratford Press, "They're down to earth and treat the animals like any other, they take it all in their stride." Fiona Carson, zoo keeper at Pouakai Zoo agrees: "We like the guys there because they are reliable, honest and listen to us as owners."
The recent operation was to remove Anila's left eye after she had developed a cancerous melanoma on the eyeball. Scott says that they faced "two issues" when looking at the prognosis. Firstly that they ensured they took steps to "get all the cancer, requiring us to take aggressive margins". Secondly "there is the risk that the cancer can metastisise [spread through the body]". Scott adds that "papers on house cats show that this does happen".
However, Scott says that he and anaesthetist Craig "are confident that Anila will see out the rest of her life" as they took out all of the eyeball; "Any more aggressive and we would have had to cut into the bone in her face."
The role of the anaesthetist in this procedure was crucial; Fiona explains, "White tigers often have small hearts so there was a risk of using too high a dose which could have killed her." Scott confirms that they did a lot of research into this, and in fact used a lower dose of anaesthetic than they did when operating on a lioness at the zoo in the past, despite the fact that the tiger is a lot bigger than the lioness.
Scott says he has come across a wide variety of animals in his job. He was the quarantine vet for one of Pouakai Zoo's meerkats when it arrived from Africa, and has treated animals as diverse as chinchillas, bearded dragons, turtles and capuchin monkeys.
Anila is back in her enclosure with her triplet sisters, Kala and Azra, and recovering well, according to Bart and Fiona.