A female crocodile at the Coimbatore VOC Zoo, which lost a portion of its lower jaw three years ago, is all set to undergo reconstruction surgery.
The mugger crocodile was brought to the zoo from the Amaravathi Dam, near Udumalpet, in 1987. It was severely injured by other crocodiles and was unable to eat properly, causing its growth to be stunted.
Zoo director Dr. Asokan said experts from the Crocodile Specialists Group, Hong Kong, were contacted for consult. No similar procedure has been performed in India and the zoo authorities also consulted human dentists for input.
Dr. Rajkumar, a Coimbatore-based dentist, and Dr. Senthil, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, developed a plan to fix titanium plates onto the lower jaw of the crocodile with screws.
“Titanium is biocompatible, which means that it is non-toxic, and will not be rejected by the body,” said Dr. Senthil. Tissues located around the jaw of the crocodile will be grafted over the plate, he said.
“The plates will be able to withstand the pressure when the crocodile chews. When the crocodile bites, the pressure will be equal to 5,000 pounds of weight bearing down,” he said.
The crocodile will be kept in isolation after the surgery for a few months to allow it to heal.
“The plates will have to be specially designed. The surgery will take around three to four hours, and we hope to do it soon,” said Dr. Rajkumar.
The procedure is not without risk. Colin James Stevenson, director of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, said a similar surgery attempted in the United States was not successful.
“There are not many cases where such surgery has been done. We will have to see how the crocodile responds to the surgery,” he said.