The Lioness, The Dentist and the BBC

“What do you think Mike? Deep or light?” whispered John, the Anaesthetist after he clambered round the patient, over the wires, cables and general paraphernalia that filled the small cage we were working in.

I was going to ask you exactly the same I replied.


We had both just checked the vital signs, respiration rate, depth, palpebral reflex, and a quick look at the monitor said the patient, a Lioness at Chessington Zoo was sound asleep. The Pulse Oximeter, confirmed the mucous membranes, nicely pink. The Capnograph agreed on depth and rate of breathing, the blood pressure nicely normal, the ECG just doing its thing.

Peter Kertesz, the specialist dentist, said everything was fine as he worked away in the lions mouth headlight illuminating his way. Not that Peter needed the headlight today, because not only were we sharing the space with Peters dental nurse, Sam, the head keeper, a sound recordist, camera man but a lighting man complete with monstrous great “portable” television studio style lights.

I’m blaming the distraction of the BBC, filming with us for the day for a news item later that night, for the fact that neither of us had tracked the anaesthetic perhaps as closely as we might. It is often said, incorrectly in my opinion that, anaesthesia is 99% boredom, 1% terror but we weren’t sure if we were approaching that 1%. Another difficulty with wild animals, even those in captivity, is that whilst there are recipes of drugs that can be used, by definition there aren’t thousands of cases available to build a cast iron anaesthetic by and there are always individual differences in how patients react to drugs. This was demonstrated spectacularly on another occasion with The Bengal and the missing dart.

So there we were…6 people too many in a small cramped cage with a female lion, was she deep or was she light, the only call to make in this situation is to call a halt, Peter said he needed a few more minutes…no problem and everyone else…”time to leave”. John and I made ourselves as useful as possible by standing outside the cage whilst all the BBC gear was dismantled and handed out to us as quietly as possible. Well don’t want to go waking the patient too quickly by making too much noise eh?

Everyone safely outside and John administered the wake up and we retired right outside to wait

and wait

and wait

Just over an hour later the first signs of stirring came from the cage and the lioness with delightfully clean and repaired teeth took her first steps post anaesthetic and we retired to the bar for a well earned cup of coffee or was it something stronger, I can’t quite remember.