THE SINSEH IS IN
News Source: The Sunday Times, 6th March, 2005
By: Teo Cheng Wee
A vet’s use of Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat animals at the Singapore Zoo has gained attention
AH MENG was not happy. Two months ago, the 46-year-old orang utan and Singapore Zoo icon was suffering from piles and was constipated.
She seemed listless and lethargic and was not her usual self.
Enter Dr Oh Soon Hock, resident zoo vet for the last 14 years and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) guru to its animals.
He ground a mixture of Chinese herbs, mixed it with warm water and honey, and fed it to Ah Meng.
With a week, her constipation was gone and she was back to her contented ways.
It was Ah Meng’s second TCM experience – her first was one and a half years ago when she was treated for the same ailment.
Thousands of years after its first documented uses, TCM is moving beyond humans and has been adapted for animal welfare in the last decade.
This trend is being documented in an upcoming series, New Breed Vets, which debuts on Animal Planet early next year.
Hosted by the popular Australian star of (The) Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, the series features unusual and cutting-edge veterinary techniques.
Irwin and his film crew were at the Singapore Zoo recently to shoot Dr Oh in action.
Together with 16 journalists, Irwin watched him perform acupuncture on an 18-year-old Asian Elephant called Tun.
It was suffering from chronic lameness in the right foreleg after being injured by another elephant.
Zookeepers coaxed the elephant to lie down as Dr Oh inserted eight needles into different acupuncture points on her right shoulder and elbow.
The needles used in animals are different from those used in humans. In Tun’s case, they were about twice as thick and long.
This was the elephant’s sixth session in six weeks.
According to Dr Oh, she responded well to treatment and is no longer limping like she used to.
The elephant can also bend her foreleg now, something she had difficulty doing in the past.
Irwin was clearly excited about the prospects of TCM.
It was the first time that he had witnessed acupuncture on an animal and proclaimed it “sensational, innovative and clever”.
He had also seen Ah Meng take her TCM medication earlier in the day and was enthusiastic with the results.
“It was a great poop,” he joked. “It works – the proof is in the pudding.”
He added: “Whatever TCM can do for humans, it can do for animals. We can absolutely adapt it – we just need the expertise for it.”
Although TCM for humans is similar to that for animals, it is Dr Oh’s background that allows him to straddle the two disciplines.
He attended the veterinary school in National Taiwan University in 1981, hoping to learn more about animals so as to continue the family business of rearing pigs.
It was there that he first learnt about TCM for animals, after taking a course on animal acupuncture.
On his return to Singapore, he joined the zoo as a vet in 1990 as the business of pig farms was being phased out by the Government.
At the same time, he began taking a TCM course at the Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution.
After graduating in 1994, he began to use his own blend of TCM and veterinary science to treat animals that weren’t responding to modern medicine, and with the blessings of the zoo management.
It was a hit.
He has successfully treated horses for sinus problems, sea-lions for eye irritation and civet cats for chronic diarrhoea.
A giraffe which had a problematic and infected sternal wound on its chest for six years was cured with TCM herbs in about two months.
On average, Dr Oh treats about five animals at the zoo every month using TCM.
“The advantage of TCM is that it has no side effects. We’ll try modern medicine first but if that doesn’t work, we’ll use TCM,” he said.
Although he is currently the only one practicing this veterinary treatment method here, he hopes other vets here and abroad can do so, too.
“TCM’s benefits to animals are clear. It can also be used on domestic animals like dogs or cats. I foresee a good future for it.”