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World-first Tasmanian Devil reconstructive surgery

11 February 2019

Matrix, the Tasmanian Devil, has undergone world-first reconstructive surgery at Healesville Sanctuary’s wildlife hospital.

Recently, keepers noticed some swelling on ageing Matrix’s face. The veterinary team at the Sanctuary’s Australian Wildlife Health Centre (AWHC) quickly discovered the cause of the swelling - Matrix’s canines were misaligned and rubbing on his gums.

A Tasmanian Devil’s facial structure and teeth are not just important for eating, but also for communicating and social interaction.

Luckily for Matrix, the Sanctuary’s vet team and Veterinary Dental Specialist Dr David Clarke worked together to come up with an innovative plan. During an operation that lasted more than three hours, Dr Clarke and the AWHC team reshaped the structure of Matrix’s teeth and gums, capping his canines and reconstructing his damaged upper gums.

The surgery was a success and the team are delighted to report that Matrix is recovering well and settling back into his enclosure, with a happier grin.

Tasmanian Devils are a species on the brink of extinction. Devil Facial Tumour Disease - a horrific cancer that has spread rapidly across approximately 90% of Tasmania - has caused a rapid decline in the wild population.

Matrix is six years old, considered elderly for a Tasmanian Devil.

“As animals age their needs and behaviours change,” said Healesville Sanctuary Senior Veterinarian Dr Leanne Wicker. “We have a life-long responsibility to respond to these changes.

“Matrix is an older Devil, but his teeth were really the only thing slowing him down. Our animals’ quality of life is always our top priority, so we were prepared to go to great lengths to get Matrix grinning again.”

Healesville Sanctuary is part of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, a coordinated response from government, wildlife parks, universities and scientists to the threat of Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

Healesville Sanctuary would like to thank Dr David Clarke and his team from Dental Care for Pets for helping to provide its animals with the very best in veterinary medicine.