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Dr Gordon Corfield and Hayley O'Mara visit Borneo to help treat a captive Sun bear

Posted by VSS on 28 February 2020

In September 2019, Dr Gordon Corfield (specialist Small Animal Surgeon from VSS Carrara) and Hayley O'Mara (senior surgery nurse from VSS Carrara) travelled to Borneo to help treat a 6 year old Sun Bear named Hitam.  Hitam had been rescued by a charity, Orangutan Foundation International Australia, and Dr Steve Van Mil, a veterinarian from Lennox Head, NSW coordinated funding and logistics to treat the bear.  Hitam had been kept in a small space as a pet by the family who had previously owned her.  She had been fed a diet of soft food that did not satisfy the nutritional requirements for growth, and had subsequently not developed properly.  The problem that Dr Corfield and Hayley were there to solve was a narrowed pelvic canal that was not wide enough to allow Hitam to defecate and pass normal stools.  This problem further prevented Hitam eating a normal diet for a Sun bear keeping her small and poorly nourished, and also resulted in great pain and straining to pass small volumes of liquid stool. Her quality of life suffered terribly from this problem.

Hitam's treatment required planning and coordination from multiple parties.  Dr Larry Vogelnest, the senior veterinarian from Taronga Zoo in Sydney, was part of the team and responsible for the anaesthesia.  The surgery was performed on site at the rescue facility in Borneo.  Dr Corfield had planned the surgery in advance and a specifically designed stainless steel surgical bone plate was manufactured.  Dr Corfield planned to perform a modified triple pelvic osteotomy to widen the pelvic canal.  Triple pelvic osteotomy is a surgical procedure that is sometimes used in young dogs to treat hip dysplasia.  It aims to rotate the acetabulum (cup) of the pelvis to improve the alignment of the hip joints.  One of the other effects of the surgery is to widen the pelvic canal, and Dr Corfield took advantage of this by modifying the procedure and the implants to open up the pelvic canal. Dr Stephen Van Mil was instrumental in organising the team and the funding, and also assisted in the surgery.  Hayley was on hand to ensure that all the equipment and materials were managed in the best possible way, to run the surgical theatre during the procedure, and to prepare Hitam for surgery with adequate sterility protocols to minimise any risks of complications.

Thanks to the efforts of the whole team, the surgery was a great success.  Hitam recovered well from the surgery and was able to pass a normal stool that night!  She is now eating a normal diet and is being transitioned to a 1-hectare enclosure with other Sun bears to learn more normal "sun bear behaviour".  The whole team were happy that they could use their combined skills to improve the health of this wonderful creature. 

Please check out this feature story on ABC's 7:30 report here.


The team that helped treat the captive sun bear in Borneo

The Team: From left to right Dr Steve Van Mil, Dr Gordon Corfield, Dr Larry Vogelnest, Hayley O'Mara

The team at the conclusion of the surgery

Job done! The team at the conclusion of surgery

The team operating on the bear

Dr Steve Van Mil (L) and Dr Gordon Corfield operate on Hitam

Preparing the bear for surgery

Hayley O'Mara preparing Hitam for surgery

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