A VET at Edinburgh Zoo has revealed a surprising list of objects he has pulled out of a penguin’s stomach.
Romain Pizzi, who has presented nature shows on the BBC, Channel 4, Five, and Animal Planet, was speaking at the eighth International Penguin Conference in Bristol about keyhole surgery techniques he had used on “difficult patients” that had swallowed foreign objects.
The 38-year-old, who is a specialist in zoo and wildlife medicine, revealed that he had removed various objects from a number of Edinburgh Zoo’s 70 gentoo penguins, including sticks, twigs, stones, gloves, children’s socks, lollypop sticks, batteries, a broken broom handle and coins.
He said: “I am pleased to say the penguins in question were fine and were able to get back into the water soon after surgery. It is a very rare occurrence for animals at Edinburgh Zoo to swallow hazardous materials.
However, due to the very inquisitive nature of our gentoo penguins, they do have a habit of eating things they shouldn’t, which is why we stress to our visitors to not throw foreign objects into the penguin enclosure.
“The most interesting thing I have removed from a penguin was a pair of batteries, though I have also had to operate on a black howler monkey to remove a large stone that it had swallowed.”
Mr Pizzi, who lives in Penicuik, has carried out 22 operations on the flightless birds in four years, using minimally invasive surgical techniques.
He said: “Usually it’s little sticks that people will poke through and the penguin will wolf it down before we can do anything.
“A penguin’s intestine is very compact, with sharp angles, and even something like an oak leaf can cause problems.”
He added: “Minimally invasive techniques hold notable advantages over open surgery, including small wounds, rapid recovery, minimal post-operative pain, rapid healing, and low rates of wound complications.
“New cutting-edge instruments now allow operations to be performed that were pretty much impossible until recently, especially in difficult patients such as penguins.”
“These advantages also allow a more rapid return to water, important in aquatic animals such as penguins, whose natural behaviour is to spend much of their time swimming.
“Endoscopy also provides magnified visualisation of organs as well, as some anatomic regions are difficult to adequately visualise in open surgery.”