From Porcupine to Polar Bears, Saskatoon vet recounts wild tales

He’s no Doctor Doolittle; he can’t talk to the animals, but Saskatoon’s Jerry Haigh is a veterinarian who has been up close and personal with some very big beasts.

Jerry Haigh's book chronicles a long history of helping big beasts

Haigh has spent much time offering medical aid to very large animals including Canada's iconic polar bears. (Mark Nui/Submitted Photo)

He's no Doctor Doolittle; he can't talk to the animals, but Saskatoon's Jerry Haigh is a veterinarian who has been up close and personal with some very big beasts.

Haigh's career began in Kenya, where days after graduating from university he found himself giving care to an ailing giraffe, and ended at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo.
Jerry Haigh was a guest on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning. (CBC)

It's all documented in his new book Porcupines to Polar Bears.

Haigh spent much time face-to-face with Canada's iconic polar bears.

"Not advised unless they are drugged," he said in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

His takeaway from all that time spent with the massive predator?

"Humans are not the top of the food chain, that's for sure."

Open wide

Haigh's career also included many adventures in wildlife dentistry, including a trip to the Calgary Zoo where he had to offer relief to a hippo with a serious overbite. The trick, he said was to stabilize the big hippo to keep it from moving, so that he could saw off one of its teeth.

"It took a long time, about an hour," Haigh recalled.
Haigh once had to call in experts from the University of Saskatchewan to deal with a lion's dental problems. (Submitted by Martha McDevitt)

But it was a lion in Saskatoon that presented a dental issue beyond Haigh's abilities. The big cat had a problem with some broken canine teeth. Haigh fired off a note to the dental college over at the University of Saskatoon, asking for help.

"The next day, I think every member of the dental faculty appeared at the zoo. What happened to the human patients that day, I have no idea."

"We ended up putting false teeth on this guy's canine teeth."

The lion has long since passed away, but Haigh said the cat's skull is on display at the U of S, gleaming stainless steel false teeth still intact for all to see.

Rhino dear to Haigh's heart 

After all the years and all the adventures, Haigh does not hesitate to name his favourite animal, even though he once had to perform an enema on one (it's in the book).
A baby rhinoceros follows its parent across a grassy plain. Haigh says the rhino is his favourite animal after spending much time moving them to safety in Africa. (Ernst Haas/Getty)

"My heart starts with the rhino. I did a lot of rhino translocation in my days in Kenya out of endangered areas into what was then thought to be safe national parks. We now know with the poaching that nowhere is safe for rhino."

Haigh will be at McNally Robinson on November 11, and then at Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the U of S in December.