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An Oregon State University Animal Surgeon Recently Performed a Life-Saving Operation on a Lion Rescued From the “Tiger King” Zoo

Animal surgeon Katy Townsend says operating on a lion isn’t all that different from a house cat.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

When Netflix released Tiger King near the beginning of lockdown, Oregon State University animal surgeon Katy Townsend binge-watched the docuseries like the rest of us.

Seven months later, she'd perform a lifesaving operation on a lion rescued from Joe Exotic's defunct roadside zoo.

In 2018, lioness Chobe was rescued from the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, Exotic's backyard zoo and the subject of Netflix's hit series. Now, she lives in Scotts Mills, Ore., at the WildCat Ridge Sanctuary.

Though Chobe's past is evident in her strange stature—she has no tail and is unusually stubby, likely the result of trauma and inbreeding, respectively—the 5-year-old big cat now spends her days playing and cuddling with her sister, Kariba, who was also rescued from Exotic's park.

But last month, keepers at WildCat Ridge noticed that Chobe wasn't eating. A CT scan at OSU's veterinary hospital revealed an infected uterus, which can be fatal if not treated.

On Nov. 23, Townsend performed the surgery that saved Chobe's life, removing her uterus and ovaries.

Despite the fact that Townsend is a small-animal surgeon and Chobe weighs 300 pounds, Townsend says operating on a lion isn't all that different from a house cat.

"They're very similar in anatomy," she says. Medically speaking, "[lions] are kind of like a small cat on a large scale."

WW talked to Townsend about operating on a famous animal, how a surgeon with her background ends up operating on an apex predator, and how Chobe has been spending her recovery at WildCat Ridge.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.