Rare bird gets artificial leg

Abbotsford veterinarian and a wildlife centre care for a sandhill crane that had to have its leg amputated after golf course injury.

Elizabeth Melnick of Elizabeth's Wildlife Centre keeps the sandhill crane calm while Dr. Ken Macquisten checks out the wounded leg

Elizabeth Melnick of Elizabeth's Wildlife Centre keeps the sandhill crane calm while Dr. Ken Macquisten checks out the wounded leg

In his more than 30 years as a veterinarian, Dr. Ken Macquisten of Abbotsford has seen just about everything.

But he’s now dealing with a first in his career – the challenge of developing and fitting a permanent prosthetic leg for a large bird that required an amputation after a golf course injury.

The sandhill crane’s leg was shattered by a flying golf ball on the Country Meadows Golf Course in Richmond at the beginning of March.

Myles Lamont, a wildlife biologist and consultant based in Langley, was called by Richmond city staff to capture the injured bird about four days after the accident, following failed attempts by others.

Lamont said sandhill cranes are rare in this part of Canada – they mainly live on the prairies – and this bird would have been the offspring of one of only four breeding pairs in the Lower Mainland.

He was born on the golf course two or three years ago, and is accustomed to people, making him tamer than even some of the cranes that Lamont raises in captivity.

Capturing the animal was easier than Lamont had anticipated. He lured the bird close to him with some grain in his hand, grabbed him by the neck and wrapped his head in a Titleist golf bag to keep him calm.

He then called Macquisten, whom he has worked with many times in the past, and brought the bird to the Whatcom Road Veterinary Hospital for assessment.

Macquisten said the lower portion of the crane’s leg was “dangling” and, when it wasn’t healing as hoped, he had to amputate it.

He then crafted a makeshift prosthetic so that the crane would be able to stand. In normal circumstances, a bird going through such circumstances would be euthanized.

“You wouldn’t normally do this with a wild bird, but this one is so tame and so special,” Macquisten said, adding that its rarity is also a factor.

The crane – who has yet to be named – was then taken to Elizabeth’s Wildlife Center in Abbotsford to convalesce.

The first prosthetic has since been replaced with a more sturdy one, and Macquisten said the bird has adapted well to the artificial limb.

“He hobbles along just great,” confirmed Elizabeth Melnick, who runs the wildlife centre.

The challenge now is developing a permanent one that can withstand the elements, including the bird’s ability to walk over swampland without sinking into the mud.

“Basically, it’s trial and error as you go. There really isn’t a manual for this one,” Macquisten said.

The goal is to release the crane back on the golf course. Lamont said the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Ministry of Environment, who must approve the release, have given a nine-month deadline for this to take place.

Macquisten said he looks forward to that day – “as long as he (the bird) learns what the word ‘fore!’ means.”