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The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"With teeth their size, you would not be at all keen on a visit to the dentist"
 real 56k

Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 16:42 GMT
Walruses taken to tusk
Walrus at Moscow Zoo
The Moscow walruses were rescued as orphans
By Caroline Wyatt in Moscow

Moscow Zoo is making an appeal to the public to help save its walruses which are suffering from severe toothache.

Treating human beings is much easier, everything is very predictable

Peter Kertesz, dentist
A British dentist, who specialises in animal dentistry, is to fly out to Moscow to treat the animals as soon as the zoo has raised the money.

The plight of the walruses is making a big splash in the local media. All 10 were rescued as orphans in the wild. As they cram together on the rocks of their pool, they resemble a row of wriggling brown velour sofas.

At the age of four, they already weigh 800kg (126 stone) each. And walruses with severe dental problems make a lot of noise.

Expensive tastes

Whilst in captivity, most of the walruses have ground down their tusks on the concrete in their enclosure. Others have succumbed to tooth decay. The animals are on antibiotics to relieve the pain.

Anna Pavolva, their keeper, is extremely concerned by their current distress.

"They're very kind-hearted animals," she says. "They love being with people.

"It's amazing that such a vast creature likes people but it's important for them to be stroked and looked after."

huge appetite

Looking after them is an expensive business. Despite their cavities, each walrus gulps down 50 worth of fresh fish a day.

And with teeth their size, you would not be at all keen on a visit to the dentist.

Dentist Peter Kertesz
Peter Kertesz: Animals are a dental challenge
The zoo says there is only one man for the job: UK dentist Peter Kertesz, more usually to be found treating humans at his surgery in the West End of London. He has already worked on the leopards at Moscow Zoo, and a host of other animals. So patients with flippers should present no problem.

His animal career began more than 20 years ago, when someone brought in their cat for treatment.

Large bill

"Many people ask whether one prefers treating humans or four legged and there's no simple answer," he says. "Treating human beings is much easier, everything is very predictable.

"The sizes are the same, but of course working on these exotic animals is very hard work physically. But it can be very stimulating as well."

For Moscow's walruses, the main problem is money. To fly out Peter Kertesz and his team will cost more than 10,000, including the bill for treatment. This is cash the zoo must raise through a public appeal.

But Moscow City Zoo is hoping that their orphaned walruses will soon have their first dental appointment. When they do, Peter Kertesz knows he has an enormous tusk ahead.

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See also:

09 Nov 98 | Global warming
Walruses 'threatened by climate change'
17 Nov 97 | World
Russia hungry for exotic pets
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