January 1, 2011 in City

Roaring back

Risky dental work restores a suffering lion’s well-being
By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Wendy Cederblom, lead zookeeper at Cat Tales Zoological Park, pets a 700-pound lion named Zamba whom she has cared for over 10-years. Zamba had a root canal performed by a local endodontist Dr. Rod Tataryn last March. The big cat, a former Hollywood star, is feeling much better these days. COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman
(Full-size photo)

On the Web: Read the previous story on Zamba’s root canal and watch the video at www.spokesman.com/ tags/zamba

A year that began in pain has turned around for one of Spokane’s most spectacular residents.

Broken teeth and infections had turned Zamba into 700 pounds of moody cat. There were moments when the male lion would act friendly, even exhibiting a tender side. And then sometimes he would be just plain nasty, recalled Mike Wyche, who runs Cat Tales Zoological Park north of Spokane.

That was nearly 10 months ago, before local root canal expert Dr. Rod Tataryn and his skilled team of assistants took the ache out of Zamba’s teeth.

“He is doing great,” Wyche said. The lion’s improved attitude is made better, perhaps, by the prospect of a future romance.

Cat Tales has taken in three new big cats rescued from owners on the fair circuit who didn’t know what to do when cuddly cute lion and tiger cubs begin to grow and exercise their instincts.

The most notable arrival for Zamba is a 7-month-old female lion. He has noted her presence, Wyche said.

“In a couple of years I think he just might have a girlfriend,” he said.

The big lion, with a mane and roar fit for MGM studios, arrived at Cat Tales about 10 years ago. He was a Hollywood prop for movies, music videos and ads until his trainer noticed him scoping the audience rather than following instructions.

He has been a star at Cat Tales, afforded fawning fans and special treatment from the staffers.

But sometime last winter two of his fangs snapped at the gum line. No one knows how it happened. It could have been from chewing on an icy log or biting his chain-link enclosure.

His teeth were found during a routine cage cleaning. Zamba had become increasingly agitated, Wyche said.

The lion was suffering from two abscesses that first were battled with antibiotics and then remedied by the endodontist’s tools, including 5-inch files to scrape out the infected tissue inside the tooth roots.

Zamba quickly regained his appetite and mood – much to Wyche’s relief.

Surgery on such beasts is always worrisome. The lion had to be double-darted with tranquilizers and kept sedated. There’s never a guarantee things will work out.

“He’s back to being himself,” Wyche said, “and it couldn’t be better.”

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