Along a stretch of highway in central Brazil, a female wolf was hit by a truck and left to perish on the roadside. Death seemed imminent for the animal when it was discovered by a compassionate passerby and rushed to the veterinarian at a nearby zoo. With the wolf in a near-coma and suffering from a severely broken leg, animal care workers opted to try an untested method in hopes of saving it -- treating a wild animal, for the first time ever, with stem cells. Within hours after surgery, the animal was on its feet. Within days, it had broken free of its enclosure and escaped back into the wild.Maned wolves are solitary animals found only in the central grasslands of South America. Over the centuries they have had a rocky relationship with humans. Once, the animals were hunted for their body parts, especially their eyes, which were thought to have mystical qualities. Campaigns to raise awareness of the wolves dampened those threats from poachers, but they remain a vulnerable species -- particularly due to vehicle strikes along the new roads that cut through their native habitats.
Medical advancements, however, are helping to make things right -- at least for this female wolf, the unfortunate victim of one such hit-and-run.
"Making use of stem cells, we will have faster healing of the bone," says Bonorino. "This animal is now less prone to re-fracture and the healing is more complete."
Remarkably, just hours after the operation, the wolf had the strength to stand. Within a matter of days, it no longer required medication to ease the pain. But no one could have guessed what would happened next.
Eight short days after the surgery to save its life, zoo staff arrived to find that the recovering wolf had managed to pry open its metal enclosure and escape to freedom. Fearing that the animal needed further care, officials tracked down the animal after several miles and returned it to the zoo.
Three weeks later, X-rays reveals that the wolf's fractured leg had healed completely. After a few more months of stem cell treatment and monitoring, veterinarians gave the wolf a clean bill of health -- following a recovery time half that of traditional treatment methods.
Then came the day that seemed so unfathomable just a few months earlier. The wolf was carted back to edge of the wilderness, once broken but now mended, seeming no more worse for wear. Upon being released, she lingered for a moment with the folks who saved her life -- then turned to face her native home and disappeared from sight, alone but surely not forgotten.