Operation leaves tortoise, Ernie, shell-shocked

DZG’s African spurred tortoise, Ernie, was left a little shell shocked after undergoing an operation to remove pebbles from his stomach. 

DZG-tort-op-2-webTrue to his species, two-year-old Ernie is partial to eating the odd stone when his body needs extra minerals, but bit off more than he could chew when the pebbles caused a blockage.

The problem came to light during Ernie’s monthly nutritional check when keepers found he had lost a significant amount of weight. 

An X-ray revealed the stones and after medicine failed to removed the blockage, vet Peter Stewart carried out surgery. 

Mr Stewart, who has been the zoo’s vet for 27 years, explained: “Tortoises do not have separate chest and abdominal cavities, they have a coelome, a chest and abdominal cavity in one.

“To gain access, I had to saw through his plastron, the underside of his carapace, while he was anaesthetised. 

DZG-tort-op-2-web“I opened his stomach and colon, and found stones and impacted food material which I removed. 

“I then replaced the plastron, and used a very strong epoxy resin to cement it into place.

“I also used fibreglass matting, layered with more resin, to further protect the wound.”

The superstrong Araldite resin is often used on repairwork to boats.


Mr Stewart added:?”Ernie is now doing well, and the glue will eventually dissolve, but it could take a year or two before he is completely resin free.”

Following the operation which took place in DZG’s Animal Hospital, Ernie was fed via a tube for three weeks, but is now eating normally.


CAPTIONS: TOP: Anaethestic gases put Ernie to sleep.

  ABOVE: The area to be cut is marked out.      RIGHT: Vet Peter Stewart injects antibiotic wash to prevent infection.      BELOW: A final resin coat is applied to Ernie’s shell.                          DZG-tort-op-2-web