COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A moose is recovering at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo after veterinarians found significant bone degradation in one of his hooves.
The 2-year-old moose, named Atka, came to the zoo in July 2020 at just 8 weeks old. He had been orphaned in the Alaskan wilderness when he was 6 days old and the Alaska Zoo cared for him until he was old enough to move to Colorado.
Atka had an ongoing issue with his front left hoof and toe, where an abscess had been growing and became infected, according to the zoo. While typically fatal in the wild, Atka had a team of vets behind him to help treat the problem.
The abscess created a hole in his body, which filled with scar tissue and changed the structure of his toe. This resulted in a "unique gait with intermittent limping," the zoo said. Based on sensitivity tests, the pain would come and go.
In February, the team noticed Atka was limping more. They did an x-ray on the hoof and found much more bone degradation when compared to a previous x-ray in November 2022.
The zoo decided a toe amputation was Atka's best chance at recovery.
“We know that animals can sometimes repair themselves better than we can, so we tend not to intervene too aggressively if we do not need to,” said Dr. Eric Klaphake, head veterinarian at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. “Our former moose, Tahoma, had a hoof issue that his body remedied naturally with the assistance of voluntary trained hoof trims, but Atka is experiencing progressive bone damage, which Tahoma did not. After monitoring and helping him with pain management, we’ve reached the point at which medical treatment and hoof care cannot stop further bone loss and the pain associated with it, and surgical correction is the best next step.”
The vets acknowledged that the surgery would alter Atka's gait and wouldn't correct his limp, but would put him back on the path of a long and healthy life.
Zoo staff and Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital members operated on Atka on Tuesday to remove the toe. As of 4:30 p.m., Atka was doing well and had even stood up.
Staff are now working to keep the wound as dry and clean as possible — not an easy feat for a moose in muddy season.