Straight from the lion’s mouth

Roosevelt Park Zoo is pleased to announce that its male lion “Kiota” is doing well, after receiving a root canal Monday morning. The lion had fractured one of its prominent canine teeth during the transfer back to the zoo, requiring repair.

“We’ve never done any type of procedure of that magnitude” at the zoo’s own facilities, said its director, David Merritt.

“A lot of planning went into this,” explained Ann Olson, Minot zoo’s resident veterinarian. Growing up on a cattle ranch in Des Lacs, Olson developed an interest in animal care, going to veterinary school at Iowa State University. She has worked with the zoo for six years, the most recent of these as its staff veterinarian.

“Every situation is different, every animal is different,” she said, and though she has experience with the lions’ checkups and routine medical treatment, a procedure like this would require specialized care. Putting Kiota on a softer diet and regimen of antibiotics, Olson began making inquiries. Dr. Peter Emily, founder of his eponymously-named International Veterinary Dental Foundation based in Denver, Colo., expressed an interest.

Beginning as a dentist for humans in the 1960s, Emily’s participation with dog shows made him aware of the limited options available in animal dentistry. At first modifying tools he used for his practice, he became a pioneer in the field, which has since taken him around the world for work on most everything, from the teeth of dogs, bears, and big cats to the beaks of exotic birds. Semi-retired now, Emily is still involved in the field, consulting, teaching, and operating on critters such as Kiota.

Merritt was especially grateful to Emily, who came to Minot at his own expense and performed the procedure pro bono. “We were very lucky,” Olson had also said. Not exactly a simple thorn-in-the-paw situation, to perform such delicate work in such a disconcerting place, the doctor would need some extra help. “We really needed an anaesthesiologist,” said Merritt.

On that front, Olson had help from Sandy Wilson of Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan., who she sees as a mentor. “She’s been in the field for many years,” Olson said. Whenever she has a technical question or is after a bit of advice, Wilson has been a fount of knowledge. “She’s been a really good source for me.”

The zoo paid for her flight, but Wilson donated three days’ worth of her time to help out with Kiota’s root canal, also checking out some of the other animals during her stay. It was she who primarily calculated the proper dosage and administered the anesthesia during the procedure.

“When we knocked him down he was very calm,” said Olson, explaining that the science behind anaesthetization has come a long way, leaving anaesthesiologists with a great deal of control over the subject. After the experience, she felt more confident that the zoo will be able to do more complex medical procedures in future.

After eight or nine people hefted the 460-pound lion onto an operating table loaned them by Trinity Health, the operation only took about an hour. Everything went without incident, and by Tuesday morning the lion was back in his enclosure. Olson said that he will continue to be on antibiotics for the near future as a precaution, and that staff will keep a close eye on how he is doing. So far, though, Kiota seems back to normal.

“It was a roaring success,” Merritt joked, pleased to note of the veterinarians that “they were marvelous.” A lot of effort went into the operation, and Olson was sure to commend vet technician Brandi Clark, as well as the zoo staff who helped with preparations and the transport of the unconscious lion.

Otherwise, the zoo has been quite busy since its reopening, with 2,545 visitors crowding in on Thursday during an afternoon buy-out by Midcontinent Communications. There are recent additions to the zoo, including what Merritt described as one of the largest bison he’s ever seen, one of two donated by a rancher in the western part of the state. The enormous male is said to weigh in at around 2,400 pounds. Other newcomers will be the antelope-like African bongo and the Japanese serow, which are similar to the wild goat. Once the zebra return in the very near future, Olson said that most of the zoo’s exhibit animals will be back for the year.

For more information on Emily’s work, one can visit his foundation website at (