Connor and The Circle of Life

Thursday was a hard day at CPT. I arrived early (for once) raring to go and excited for the long day ahead, as I'd planned to put some swimming pools into some of the small cat enclosures for enrichment. Once I got to the compound, I started preparing the binturong food: dog food/banana "mush," a bowl of fruit, bananas with fish oil pills and additional medications for those who needed them.

Connor (pictured above) is one of the tigers that has been at CPT his whole life and is one of the tigers hand-raised by some very caring individuals. A few weeks ago, Connor was put under anaesthesia because he was not feeling well. Unfortunately, the fourteen year old tiger was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer that originates in the lymphocytes and thus spreads throughout the entire body. Connor also had a mass in his abdomen. If you recall from my first blog, Connor is the first tiger who ever roared at me, and yes it is scary as hell. This old boy is known for charging anyone silly enough to try and change his water bowl and will go down in history for waking up in a van after having some root canals. I wasn't at CPT when this happened, but apparently Connor likes the dentist less than I do. Tigers react strangely to anaesthesia, going out and waking up very quickly (they can also go into cardiac arrest very easily due to potassium crashes while under the effect of drugs). The legend of Connor goes that when he woke up, everyone jumped out of the van as he began literally tearing the van apart (remember, wild and crazy tiger), but everyone quickly got back into said van when he shattered the front windshield on his way out. I don't think that, as a dentist, I'd ever mess with Connor, but after changing his water bowls I can assure you that his teeth are quite tiger-like, even if they are worn with age.

Knowing these things made it really hard Thursday morning when the decision was made to let Connor go. He has been so sick of late that he has not once charged anyone, and this old boy hasn't had the heart to move around or eat much. It is with a heavy heart that I type that Connor was humanely euthanized on Thursday morning. I am so amazed at the love and devotion to not only a species, but one animal as staff gathered around Connor to say their goodbyes. Two of his "adoptive parents" came, and while it was hard to witness their grief and tears, I was uplifted at the compassion of humans. As I was standing at the fence, the wind blew yellow and gold leaves to the ground like a dance, almost as if in recognition of the great cat's final breath. I truly know that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. While it hurt my soul to see such a magnificent animal take his last breath, it wasn't entirely a sad day. The beautiful thing about being a veterinarian or having compassion for animals lies in being able to make the pain go away. Some reading this may be insulted or upset by these statements, but nature is so cruel and we have the opportunity to be so kind. The cancer was killing Connor, and we were able to cease his suffering. Connor would not have lived to fourteen in the wild, nor would any of the animals at CPT. They lead the most natural and healthy lives possible at CPT, and I am proud to be involved with such a compassionate group of individuals. Connor will be missed at CPT and I will always remember the first tiger that scared the living daylights out of me.
Since this is an educational internship, I will make a short note here of what I learned through the passing of such an amazing animal. The necropsy proved very educational in learning big cat anatomy and what advanced lymphoma of the spleen looks like. Perhaps in a later posting I will explain in more detail what happened. For those faint of heart, please disregard.

My favorite movie in the whole world is Disney's "The Lion King." It combines my favorite things: cats, wildlife, beautiful music, and the lesson of the circle of life. CPT is much like this, for as Connor's long life came to an end Thursday, the interesting lives of other cats at CPT continued. Getting to know these cats has been the best therapy:

Isabella just has the greatest personality. She reminds me of my housecat Kira because she is always ready for a visit and she always looks at you with the kindest eyes. I am tempted to say that she would not eat me. Perhaps it is because she is epileptic, perhaps she just has a big heart. If you think animals don't have emotions, just look at that face.

Fenimore (pictured below in a tub) is totally one of my favorite boys. He has a goofy face and he is always "stalking" us. Fenimore loves to run along the fence chasing people and he enjoys slinking through the grass with nothing but ears and a tongue showing (that kinda sounds like a personal ad, doesn't it? I like long walks on the beach and viciously killing any buzzard stupid enough to come into my enclosure). Fenimore is a chuffler and a charmer for sure.

His enclosure partner, Emerson, has warmed up to me since his initial charge from Day 1. He has a snaggle tooth and really seems to like me (he doesn't like me because he has a snaggle tooth, but I like his snaggle tooth so it works out great). Fenimore is in love with another intern, but Emerson really enjoyed sitting with me on Thursday and having a chat about the state of things. I tried to introduce him to my kind of music, but he didn't seem to pick up on it and instead just sat there and watched me while we sat on opposite sides of the fence. I don't think he was thinking about how I tasted, but if he was then he sweet-talked me into believing otherwise. I had quiet time with a 600 lb tiger and it was really awesome given the morning's events.

I have a ton more pictures from Thursday that I will share in my next post. The caracals and ocelots are really showing some personality and I'm enjoying getting to know their habits and learning about their species history. In addition, the binturongs are getting more vocal; I've been yelled at twice by the little creatures. Shroom is probably my new buddy- more on him later. I'm also hoping to get some pictures of the nocturnal kinkajous soon. Also, I've been eaten alive by some kind of bug I suspect resides at CPT. I have no idea what this devil creature is but once I find out I am going to do some serious bug eradication research, as bug spray is not a deterrent. I look like I have chicken pox and I would love to feed the entire mystery species to the cats. Right now I have to go study for two tests that are next week. I assure you that my adventures at CPT are far cooler than any I will experience in organic chemistry or physics.... Oh well. Such is the circle of life.