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African penguin recovering from surgery at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary | TribLIVE.com
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African penguin recovering from surgery at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary

Mary Ann Thomas
| Friday, December 21, 2018 7:12 p.m
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Bette, an African penguin at the National Aviary, is seen being fed fish while rehabbing from surgery on Dec. 20, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Bette, an African penguin at the National Aviary, is seen rehabbing from surgery on Dec. 20, 2018.
562665ptrsickpenguin03122218
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Bette, an African penguin at the National Aviary, is seen rehabbing from surgery on Dec. 20, 2018.
562665ptrsickpenguin04122218
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Bette, an African penguin at the National Aviary, is seen rehabbing from surgery on Dec. 20, 2018.

One of the National Aviary’s longest-living penguins is on the mend following surgery to remove a golf ball-sized mass from her abdomen.

Bette, an 18-inch tall African penguin, is the mate of Sidney Crosby, the tuxedoed bird named after the Penguins captain. Bette and Sidney are the longest-living couple at the Aviary on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Aviary officials said the success of the rare surgery will allow them to use it as a teaching moment for other veterinarians.

But planing for the surgery didn’t come easy.

The penguins’ compact, cylinder-shaped body makes them the most complicated avian species to operate on, according to Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the Aviary.

Just prepping requires special equipment such as a man’s moustache clipper to cut away the dense, close-cropped feathers for a quarter-size spot for the incision, Fish said.

The medical team had to figure out a way to prop Bette up and make a little handmade gag. A new process was used for anesthesia. They used human cardiac instruments to complete the procedure, Fish said.

“You have to customize every procedure for a species and for an individual,” she said.

It took a team of eight veterinary specialists four hours to complete the operation just over a week ago. In addition the benign, cystic mass, they removed fibroids from Bette’s uterus.

There are three layers of stitches, as penguins have multiple layers including a “blubber patch” on it abdomen to keep her and her young warm.

Bette, who became lethargic and lost her appetite earlier this month, is expected to make a full recovery.

On Thursday, she was hopping around, full of energy, pecking at her reflection in a mirror in her recovery playpen area. Although she is not surrounded by her family, Bette has taken to a surrogate, a stuffed plush penguin, which she sleeps next to, according to Fish.

Bette has another 10 days of recovery before she is back at Penguin Point with Sidney and her recent young, Sunshine and D.J.

Bette and Sidney have produced eight young in captivity, which does not come so easy for most penguins.

Reproduction is key for this species of penguin, which is expected to go extinct in our lifetime, according to Cheryl Tracy, executive director of the National Aviary. The Aviary houses 18 African penguins.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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