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World - Asia/Pacific

Thai doctor treats fish as pets, not protein

Surgery
Nantarika operates quickly on a goldfish  

July 19, 1999
Web posted at: 1:04 p.m. EDT (1704 GMT)

From Bangkok Bureau Chief John Raedler

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Some fish never make it to the dinner table in Thailand.

Although they are the nation's primary source of protein , many become pets. And if they get sick, aquatic veterinarian Dr. Nantarika Chansue can treat them at the "fish hospital" at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

When one owner brings a dragon fish to her, she asks about chemicals in the water tank. Excessive use of such substances is the most common cause of the ailments she sees.

The fish's scales are scraped, and the sample is sent to a laboratory where a microscopic examination confirms the vet's suspicions.

"They thought that if they add a lot of drugs and chemicals the fish will feel good," Nantarika says.

Asians consider the dragon fish a source of good luck. In this case, the pet fish enjoys some of its own. It is admitted to the hospital for treatment, and the prognosis for recovery is good.

Moving from the emergency room to the operating room, Nantarika sees her next patient: a gold fish. Working quickly to minimize the fish's time out of water, she removes several tumors from its skin.

In a developing country where professional skills are scarce, some wonder if Nantarika is wasting her expertise treating pet fish.

Turtle
Stitches are carefully applied to a turtle  

"I think one fish is one life, just like other animals" she says. "So if I can take care of their life, that is important to me, and it is important to the owner of that fish."

Besides, the hospital treats more than fish. Each year, it cares for more than 3,500 patients, including large crocodiles.

In one case, Nantarika performs a delicate procedure on a male turtle she thinks has been overactive sexually. As a result, it cannot retract its reproductive organ. The veterinarian fixes the problem, using a chopstick and a few stitches.

Nantarika says the challenge of helping creatures from different environments lured her into aquatic medicine:

"It's magic. Because fish, they cannot talk, and so they cannot complain so much. But also they get sick and really need help."

In a country with one of the highest rates of pet fish ownership in the world, she has plenty of patients to help.



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