Salvador vet’s painstaking surgery helps mutilated bird fly again

SAN SALVADOR (AFP) – Veterinary surgeon Jose Coto’s clinic at the El Salvadoran Environment Ministry has its hands full as it cares for a wide array of injured, neglected or abused wild animals in the Central American country.

But he was stunned when police recently brought him a large-beaked hawk that had its wing feathers hacked off.

It fell to the 30-year-old veterinary surgeon and his assistants to painstakingly graft on a new set of feathers to the wings of the brown-and-white animal in the hope it can fly again.

Clipping its wings – the act of a man who wanted to keep the wild hawk as a pet – “is the cruelest idea of what not to do to a bird,” said an aghast Mauricio Sermeno, Head of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit, an environmental NGO.

“Trying to turn wild birds into pets is the same as killing them, because they can no longer reproduce,” said Sermeno. “Birds need to live in the open air, it’s their natural way of living.”

A mutilated roadside hawk lies on an operating table as vets work to graft on a new set of wings. PHOTO: AFP

Painstakingly, matching up identical feathers from another hawk that died months ago, Coto and his team were able to graft on a new set of wings to the 30-centimetre bird of prey in a two-hour operation.

The new feathers were carefully “inserted into the stump of the ones that were cut,” the vet explained.

Most birds molt and grow new feathers every year, but the transplant will mean this hawk won’t have to wait the six months to two years it would need to grow its wings back, during which Coto said it would likely die.

To the delight of veterinary team, the bird was soon able to fly five metres across a room, without losing a feather. Coto said a release back into the wild is being set for next Friday.