Through the keyhole with talented Romain Pizzi

Romain Pizzi's skills have been highlighted on TV. Picture: Contributed
Romain Pizzi's skills have been highlighted on TV. Picture: Contributed
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A VET at Edinburgh Zoo is the only surgeon in the UK to specialise in “keyhole” surgery in wildlife.

Romain Pizzi, who was born and grew up in South Africa, has used his skills to treat exotic animals across the world.

The part-time specialist veterinary surgeon for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has presented or appeared in shows on the BBC, Channel 4, Five and Animal Planet.

In his latest programme, Vet on the Loose, cameras followed him as he travelled around the UK treating a wide variety of animals, from tarantulas to tigers, as well as more common pets, for Animal Planet.

Romain was speaking at the International Penguin Conference in Bristol recently about his work in Edinburgh.

The 38-year-old 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, a broken broom handle and coins.

He said: “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.”

Romain, who lives in Penicuik, has carried out 22 operations on the flightless birds in four years, using minimally invasive surgical techniques.

He says keyhole surgery holds notable advantages over open surgery, including small wounds, rapid recovery, minimal post-operative pain, rapid healing, and low rates of wound complications – as is the same of humans.

A keen conservationist, Romain is passionate about the work the zoo is doing in important conservation projects.

He said it is doing good research in saving and breeding endangered species – not to mention being the only place to see giant pandas and koalas in the UK.

Romain is also the wildlife veterinarian for the Scottish SPCA Wildlife Rescue Centre, which admits more than 3000 native species wildlife casualties a year.

These can range from hedgehogs to grey and harbour seals, which are treated and rehabilitated for release.

He said: “This is in keeping with my strong interest in improving animal welfare in all situations.”

He is involved in numerous field projects and overseas charities, and is a specialist veterinary advisor to Free The Bears Fund in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. During his work there, he pioneered the first “keyhole” surgical removals of diseased gallbladders in bears rescued from illegal bile farming in Vietnam, which was a dramatic improvement over old fashioned open abdominal surgery.

Romain continues to be involved part-time in teaching, as a special lecturer in zoo and wildlife medicine at the University of Nottingham, and lectures and teaches internationally.