An eight-year old African lion underwent successful tumor removal surgery in Tel Aviv today, after his keepers at the Ramat Gan Safari noticed the beast had a growth the size of a tennis ball on his belly. Samuni is recovering and doing well after a two-hour operation by Safari veterinarian Dr. Igal Horowitz and will be returning to the lions' fenced-in free-range area in the Safari park tomorrow.
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Fortunately and not coincidentally, like the rest of the Safari's big animals, Samuni had been undergoing routine coaching ahead of medical emergencies, which made the whole process of treating him – well, easier at least.
Team prepares Samuni for surgery to remove a tumor from his abdomen at the Ramat Gan Safari Zoo. Leftmost: Dr. Igal Horowitz. Photo: Reuters
"Every morning the animals undergo a training process that prepares them for medical emergencies, so we can lessen the stress of treatment," explains spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz.
This sort of preemptive training for elephants for instance involves accustoming them to having blood samples taken from their ears, washing their feet in salt water (which sterilizes) and lifting one leg at a time for a pedicure.
"Yes, the elephants get a pedicure every single day. Their feet and toenails get cleaned and oiled for the sake of their well-being," she clarified at Haaretz's bewildered request. She also clarified that blood is really extracted from the elephant's ear only when necessary.
"Before we instituted this coaching, to treat an elephant for anything, first it would have to be stupefied and its leg lifted with chains," Horowitz explains. But since the ungentle giants undergo the procedure every day, thanks to a Safari keeper who underwent training in California, they're used to being touched and don't think twice about it when the need to actually extract blood, for instance, does arise.
Samuni the lion being prepped for surgery. (Photo: Reuters)
Which leads us back to Samuni. The morning training routine for the lion pack involves standing on their hind legs so their doting keepers can inspect their whole bodies for whatever. One day a keeper noticed a whatever the size of a tennis ball on his abdomen.
The growth was biopsied but the results were inconclusive, and for the sake of caution, Dr. Horowitz decided to excise the growth in its entirety. It has now been sent back to the lab for more testing, to see whether it was benign, or malignant, with possible ramifications for Samuni's future health.
For all the coaching, Samuni, who had been born at the Safari, is a frisky sort. Knocking him out required an anesthetic dart. "He was not particularly cooperative," Horowitz admits. And now, the tumor safely out and the lion safely growling in recovery, we can hope he will continue to be not particularly cooperative for many years to come.
Samuni the lion, when he isn't flat on his back from anesthetics. Photo: Tibor Jaeger