WINSTON — A Wildlife Safari cheetah is walking around with less pain after a tooth fixed on Thursday afternoon.

Mchumba, a 6-year-old cheetah, serves as an ambassador for the animal park in Winston. Once his handlers noticed a suspect tooth, the cheetah was taken to the Safari clinic Thursday where a local dentist, Dr. Ron Tribble of Umpqua Community Health Center, checked out the cheetah to see if a root canal was needed, after handlers had noticed something appeared to be wrong.

“With her being one of the ambassadors, we check them every day and we noticed a black spot on that tooth,” said Sarah Roy, carnivore supervisor at Wildlife Safari.

Tribble and Safari veterinarian Dr. Benji Alcantar determined that it was a cracked tooth that appeared to be causing the pain for the animal. So Tribble put in a filling, which appears to have taken care of the problem.

Tribble has done several of the animal dentistry projects over the years. He did a root canal on Mchumba a couple of years ago, and he’s also done dental procedures on a bear, a lion, a hippopotamus, a tusk repair for an elephant, an extraction for a fox and did some dental work on a hippo. He also plans to do a root canal on another lion later this month. He likes working on people, but taking care of animal teeth is an experience he relishes.

“My time at Wildlife Safari is very special for me, I love working with the animals and working with the team up here, and it just allows me to come in and just be a different guy,” Tribble said. “That’s the really cool part to be able to interact and do something that you rarely get an opportunity to do.”

Alcantar says the value of having someone like Tribble donate his time to do the procedures on the animals at the park, has been a big asset for them.

“It’s great, it’s just super valuable, having a dentist like Dr. Tribble to help us with this because he has the experience for it and he’s good at what he does and he’s willing to do it,” Alcantar said.

Tribble and Alcantar had assistance from a group of students from Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, who came to Wildlife Safari to assist with the dental work.

Tribble checked out the X-rays of the Cheetah’s teeth, and after a thorough examination, he decided that the cracked tooth could be fixed with a filling. Tribble said he does everything he can to keep from having to pull a tooth in a wild animal like a cheetah.

“I think I have a good track record, I think the root canals have been pretty much 100 percent successful,” Tribble said. “That means the animal is able to go back to normal functions. I’ve been doing this for 20-plus years now but just being able to give them a better day and not have a toothache is a pretty positive thing.”

One of the helpers at the cheetah dental appointment Thursday was Amy Barkhurst, who is an exotic animal practitioner at Santa Clara Animal Hospital in Eugene. She grew up in Myrtle Creek and has volunteered at Wildlife Safari since she was 13 years old. Barkhurst, who is a volunteer veterinarian at the park, wants to get certified in zoo medicine and being able to take part in the crew that worked on Mchumba was another step toward that goal for her.

“I want to be a wild conservation zoo vet someday,” she said. “I need to get into a specialty residency program and research, and this will help.”

Mchumba and her brother were actually born on Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2012, so they’ve only had one true birthday, but they’ll celebrate their seventh birthday on Feb. 28.

Roy takes Mchumba, whose name means “sweetheart” in Swahili, to schools and other events around the state of Oregon, to take the message of the endangered cheetah. It also allows Wildlife Safari to highlight the fact that it is considered the top cheetah-breeding facility in the world outside of Africa, with 214 baby cheetahs born at the park since it opened.

“She’s a great cat that a lot of the community is very familiar with, and it’s really neat that we can take care of this, because in the wild something as simple as a toothache can end up killing an animal if it goes untreated,” Roy said.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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