Acupuncture helps ailing albino alligator

Bino, the albino alligator, receives acupuncture treatment in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo / AP
Bino, the albino alligator, receives acupuncture treatment in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo / AP

Bino's back was killing him. He was suffering from scoliosis. He couldn't move his legs, two of them anyway, and his tail just wouldn't swish.

What's an albino alligator in that sort of health bind to do? Acupuncture, naturally.

Bino the albino alligator lives at the Sao Paulo Aquarium, where he's been since 2007.

He was born eight years ago with his ailments and nothing seemed to alleviate them, veterinarians said on Wednesday.

So in early 2011 veterinarians decided to see if acupuncture might help Bino, since it has helped other animals living at the aquarium.

"The acupuncture will ... alleviate his pain and keep all his vital functions going," says Rafael Gutierrez, a biologist at the aquarium.

The 30-minute weekly treatments will continue indefinitely, as long as they keep showing solid results, he said.

Acupuncture on animals is becoming increasingly common around the globe, especially with pets such as cats, dogs and horses. The use of acupuncture on animals began thousands of years ago in China.

In the United States, the number of vets who hold membership of the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture has jumped 50 per cent in recent years to 900 doctors, says Simon Flynn, the executive director of the academy, based in Glastonbury, Connecticut.

Typical ailments treated by acupuncture include neck and back issues, skin problems and pain in general, among other complaints, says Flynn.

Bino the Sao Paulo alligator requires a few precautions not needed with your average house cat. Inserting the needles into Bino's back requires the important first step of taping shut his lock-tight jaws full of sharp teeth.

Bino wrestles around a bit as the tape is applied but soon calms down.

Vet Daniela Cervaletti then slides behind Bino, firmly pressing the needles into his leathery white and yellow hide. The needles are inserted along his spine and around the area where the animal developed a hunchback.

Bino doesn't move at all as nearly a dozen needles go in.

Cervaletti gently strokes the side of Bino's neck after she applies them all, then waits several minutes before removing them.

The treatment complete, handlers help Bino back into a display pool, his white skin stark against brown fake rocks painted with foliage.

He moves easily and swishes his tail, gliding along the water as a gaggle of young schoolchildren squeal in delight, faces pressed up against the glass separating them from Bino.

- AP

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