Our beautiful white tiger Shekinah had a terrible accident.
My family and I were shocked and devastated!
I will never forget the Sunday morning in June 2010 when we received Sheena and Shekinah, they were just 12 weeks old and weighed about 25 lbs. They lived in our house for the first 6 months, and like welcoming a new child into your home it takes awhile to get to know them and understand their personalities. One thing we learned fairly quickly was that their was something very different about Shekinah, looking into those beautiful blue eyes there was a depth, a soulfulness I had never seen before in a tiger. She was very quick to bond to our family. It was almost like she was looking to give love and receive love on a deeper level.
On the evening of February 15th 2018, my family and I and our crew were about to leave on tour from our Montana facility, then I realized something was up.
Shekinah was in her cave, (she has a rock cave that she like to sleep in) and she didn’t want to come out. And that was kind of unusual because usually she is very excited to go on tour. (it’s always their choice if they want to, we never force them to go.) When she did finally step out of her cave, she was limping.
I immediately talked to our vet and we thought, well maybe she had pulled a muscle in her leg. And tigers tend to heal pretty fast so we just kind of kept an eye on it for a couple days. She didn’t seem like she was in a lot of pain.
Our vets evaluated her again (and since both Shekinah and Sheena have excellent bone density) the consensus was that the injury was muscular.
But after another week, Shekinah wasn’t getting any better so X-rays were done on Shekinah’s right leg; the scans revealed she had shattered her femur!
Being twin sisters they like to play a lot and we think what happened was Shekinah was up on top of the waterfall in the sanctuary – there’s an area to lay up there – and her sister came up and wanted to get a game going and somehow knocked her off. It was just a freak accident where she just landed and hit her hip.
After talking to several experts, the consensus was that repairing a femur on an adult tiger had not been done before and would be too expensive, she probably would have to be put down. And that was just something we weren’t going to accept because she’s part of our family. If her femur could be repaired and she could live a life without pain then it was worth any cost to fix it. My local tiger vet Dr. Sarah Lavelle of Ark Veterinary Practice agreed and she immediately got a team of local experts together and we searched far and wide for the best veterinary surgeons in the country. Fortunately, we didn’t have to search too far.
It turned out our best option was actually in Sun Valley, Idaho. Randy Acker, who is regarded as one of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country.
Dr. Randy Acker, owner of Sun Valley Animal Center, has done some pretty rare surgeries on wild animals, but never on a Bengal tiger.
He knew he had to use a specialized interlocking nail to fix her femur, but the dilemma was they didn’t make parts big enough for a tiger in veterinary medicine.
So Dr. Acker connected with Boise Hospital Saint Alphonsus director of orthopedic trauma, Dr. David Zamorano who, prior to this, only worked on humans.
Dr. Zamorano told Dr. Acker that he was reluctant to help because he really didn’t know much about tigers, but after Dr. Acker sent him the X-rays, he took a look at them and then told him it looks just like a human femur and realized you probably can fix it just like you would fix any human.
Within a couple days, Dr. Zamorano got a team together, stocked a pickup truck with medical equipment from Smith & Nephew, and headed to the Sun Valley Animal Center.
Dr. Zamorano explained to me the process. “It’s called a META-TAN Nail. We make a little hole in the top of the bone and these screws come out, we put the rod all the way down the femur then we put a screw at the bottom and a screw at the top. And this rod is really strong. It’s made out of titanium so you can’t bend i,t so this allows the tiger to walk on it from day one.”
An unlikely combination: human surgeons and equipment, representatives from Boise, an anesthesia team from Montana and a veterinary team in Sun Valley all uniting to save our beloved family member who also happens to be a rare, endangered white Bengal tiger.
The surgery was difficult for a few reasons: the fracture was about three weeks old so it had partially begun to heal in a bad position, along with Shekinah’s bones being so dense.
For the Idaho surgeons, it was a race against time, and they finished in about three hours.
“For humans pretty much you can go until you get everything perfect. I’ve had some surgeries that have gone really long and some that go really quickly. And for her the anesthesiologist said you’ve got about five hours max so you need to get it done by then,” Zamorano said.
I stood by her side during the surgery, praying without ceasing and resisting the need to hold her paw for the entire very intense 3 hour surgery. It was a tough day but it also was a good day because I knew that if it wasn’t for the surgery that she wouldn’t have had a chance to survive. It would have been inhumane to let her live without having reconstruction.”
The surgery was a complete success! Shekinah woke up from the anesthesia in a great mood, I then spent 8 to 12 hours a day with her for 12 weeks as she rested and healed in a make-shift hospital bed in her private climate controlled trailer, away from her sanctuary and away from her twin sister to avoid the risk of hurting her leg as it healed.
As twins Shekinah and Sheena have been inseparable since they were born and they have spent almost every minute of their lives together. So it was really hard for them to be separated after Shekinah’s surgery. Sheena got very stressed about it, she got concerned about her sister, and you could tell she missed her.
It was a great day when Shekinah’s leg had healed and I could finally reunite the twins together again in their Sanctuary.
Thank You! All of you who have said a prayer for Shekinah! It has been such a blessing to our family to have so many people want to be part of giving her that second chance!
We really feel like it was God’s divine intervention—a miracle that this incredible medical team came together with such enthusiasm to take on this very difficult challenge of rebuilding a tiger’s femur. All the experts in the World said it couldn’t be done! And yet a very talented and dedicated team from Idaho and Montana Dared to Believe and did the impossible! Shekinah is the first and as of this posting the only adult tiger to ever receive a successful femur reconstruction surgery. Shekinah is the Miracle Tiger and we hope her story will inspire others who are facing impossible situations to Dare to Believe in the impossible!
As many of you know, we only take our tigers on the road 6 to 10 days per month and one of the main reasons we allow our tigers to take part in our shows is to help educate people about conservation and show them first hand just how special they are. It’s always their choice if they want to go with us and do the shows. They can go or they can stay. I’ve never had a tiger not want to go because we make it fun for them and we get to spend a lot of quality time together. What they do in the show is by their choice, they’re not coerced to do it, they do it because they love it. For us they’re not props in our show, they’re not working animals. They are part of our family and they have been since the day we adopted them.
Tigers are a species in crisis! A famous conservationist once said, “we will only conserve that which we love”. I believe it is so important for people get an opportunity to be around these magnificent animals because I think it changes their life. And I think it heightens their awareness of the plight that the tiger and a lot of other animals are fighting,” Thanks again to all of you who have joined us in our efforts to stop the illegal poaching of wild tigers, because of you we have helped increased the wild population by almost 400 tigers in the last 5 years!
Take Care and God Bless
My Special thanks to NBC TV KTVB’s Morgan Boydston and photojournalist Mary Kienzle, part of the content of this blog post was taken from my interview with them and the incredible news story they did on KTVB TV about the Doctors who operated on Shekinah
Here is the link to the video story: https://www.ktvb.com/article/features/only-on-7-idaho-doctors-operate-on-save-famous-bengal-tiger/277-530451713