Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ape gets root canal

Petunia can't afford to lose her teeth.

Her boyfriend, Sandy, might attack her over a piece of papaya, and she needs them for self-defense.

Petunia is a white-handed gibbon ape, and on Wednesday, she had a root canal to save the two rotten upper canines that she flashes to communicate and needs to eat.

''Animals need dentistry just like humans,'' said Dr. Susan Clubb, head veterinarian at Petunia's home on Parrot Jungle Island, the zoological theme park on Watson Island in Biscayne Bay.

On hand to operate was Dr. Richard Souviron, a Coral Gables dentist and forensic expert known for his tooth-related trial testimony -- the most famous of which helped convict serial killer Ted Bundy in 1979.

Because few veterinarians specialize in zoological dentistry, animal parks often pair up with human practitioners who volunteer their services, said Roger Sweeney, animal division director at Parrot Jungle.

Souviron, for example, has treated lions, tigers, bears, a hippo and a koala at parks across Miami.

Petunia is one of about 1,000 animals, including 32 monkeys and apes, on display at the park. Gibbons are quintessential ''monkey-bar'' apes: flying acrobats who flit hand-over-hand across their native rain forests in Southeast Asia at speeds nearing 35 mph.

But at 22, Petunia is middle-age and mellow, while Sandy, 12, can sometimes get rough, trainers said. He guards his mate fiercely -- swatting at strangers and once even snatching the toupee off a stunned park volunteer -- but he fights with her, too, for melon chunks or turns at the drinking hose.

Petunia's smaller female teeth are key to fending him off, and they allow her to forage and chomp a wide variety of food -- something especially important for captive primates, said Serena Moss, primate supervisor at Parrot Jungle.

Story here.

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