Chobe the lioness gets prepped for surgery

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Doctors at Oregon State University’s veterinary hospital are well-versed in spaying and neutering pets, but they had their hands full on Monday when an extra-large patient came in for her appointment.

Chobe the lioness, who was rescued from “Tiger King” Joe Exotic’s Oklahoma facility in 2018 and now lives at the WildCat Ridge Sanctuary in Scotts Mills, was brought in for a CT scan at the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The scan revealed a distended uterus caused by an infection. Pyometra is a fairly common infection among female big cats in captivity, said Dr. Katy Townsend, an associate professor of small animal surgery in the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine and the surgeon who operated on Chobe. The lioness’ surgery involved removing both her uterus and ovaries.

“Essentially it’s just like doing a cat spay, but on a mega scale,” Townsend said. “Surgery went really well; we were able to cleanly get everything out in a short amount of time. We expect her to make a full recovery from this.”

It can be challenging to get big cats to take pain medication, so the surgical team used a three-day local anesthetic during the procedure to help Chobe get the pain relief she’ll need in the days to come, Townsend said.

Left untreated, pyometra can lead to serious problems. Fortunately, staff at the WildCat Ridge Sanctuary knew the warning signs, because their white Bengal tiger had the same infection a few years ago and was also treated by Townsend at OSU.

Keepers noticed that Chobe wasn’t eating and was experiencing some discharge, so they knew something was wrong, said Ian Ford, sanctuary executive assistant.

“We're hoping that this surgery is going to make sure that everything’s OK for her, and she can get back to just living her life in peace and happiness, which is the only thing that we want for all of our residents,” Ford said.

Ford said that due to inbreeding at Joe Exotic’s facility, Chobe is a “mismatch of genetics” and a little stubby in appearance — “like a giant guinea pig” — but a very sweet and expressive animal. She came to the Oregon sanctuary in mid-2019.

Ford said he was looking forward to seeing the 5-year-old lioness back to normal: “Just having her roll around in the grass with her buddy Kariba and back to getting her paws up in the air and just enjoying herself.”

Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine

About the OSU Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine: The college serves the needs of Oregon, the nation and the world by training the next generation of practice-ready veterinarians, providing state-of-the-art diagnostic and clinical services and supporting the continuing education of veterinary practitioners. Biomedical research conducted at the college increasingly expands the scope of veterinary medicine to address both animal health issues and the relevance of animal diseases to public health.

Story By: 

Molly Rosbach, [email protected]


Dr. Katy Townsend, [email protected], 541-737-4812; Ian Ford, [email protected], 503-504-3305


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