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Editor’s Note: The photo gallery below contains photos of a surgical procedure. Some may find these images graphic.

We recently brought our 36-year-old African spurred tortoise Tate, a resident of our Kangaroo Walkabout in our Lands of Change loop, to Dr. Alex Fox-Alvarez DVM, MS, DACVS-SA with Community Care Veterinary Specialists for an intense surgery to remove a large bladder stone. We’re happy to share Tate is recovering well from his surgery in a behind-the-scenes space.

A few weeks ago, Tate was brought to our L3 Harris Animal Care Center for a routine exam. During a CT scan, the bladder stone was found and estimated to be about 13 centimeters (about 5.12 inches) in diameter. While the stone wasn’t affecting him physically, a stone that size could eventually prevent him from being able to urinate or even rupture his bladder, said Zoo staff veterinarian Dr. Rachel Turner.

Our veterinary team attempted to remove the stone through an incision in front of one of his hind legs, but it was too large to remove through this method.

Our team turned to Dr. Fox-Alvarez for a more complicated procedure: creating a “flap” in the plastron (bottom part of his shell) by cutting through three sides and leaving one side attached. This gave space for the 3.4-pound stone to be removed in pieces. The 3-hour surgery was successful.

Tate’s shell was glued back down using epoxy. It can take months to years for the plastron bone to completely re-attach, but it should stabilize within a few weeks, Dr. Turner said. He’s on antibiotics as well as medications to help reduce inflammation and pain.

“Tate is doing very well,” said Dr. Turner. “He has not started eating yet, which is very normal, it usually takes a few days for tortoises to fully recover from such a big procedure, but he is alert and active and his incision looks great.”

These stones usually develop due to a variety of factors, Dr. Turner said, including hydration, diet and activity levels. Tate was privately owned before he was donated to our Zoo, so likely the cause of the stone happened before he arrived.

“He is currently on a very appropriate diet and lives in the Kangaroo Walkabout where he has tons of space to be active and engage in normal activities, which will help to prevent sludge from forming in his bladder going forward,” Dr. Turner said.

We’re thankful to have resources like our CT and partnerships with experts like Dr. Fox-Alvarez to be able to give all our animal residents incredible care. We hope to welcome Tate back out to his main habitat in Lands of Change soon!

Special thanks to Flammio Financial Group, Stifel-Garvin Wealth Management Group, Artemis IT, and Jim and Darleen Barfield. Their generosity makes our work possible! 

Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.