This Bear’s Grotesquely Enlarged Tongue Is the Stuff of Nightmares

The bear’s tongue was so swollen it had been dragging along the floor. (Image: The University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies)

Think you’re having a bad day? Check out this bear and his impossibly swollen tongue. Alarmed by the bear’s predicament, an international team of experts were asked to perform an emergency procedure, giving the poor animal a new lease on life.

The bear’s name is Nyan htoo, which means “bright,” and he, along with his brother, are currently living as rescue cases in a Myanmar monastery. Last year, the monks noticed that something weird was going on with Nyan htoo’s tongue, as it was starting to get freakishly large. They called in some local vets who decided to operate and remove some excess tissue, but the swelling came back and got even worse.


Needless to say, the enlarged tongue began to affect the bear’s quality of life. Nyan htoo was still able to play and wrestle with his brother, but the tongue became so swollen that it started to drag along the floor. He would often bite down on it by accident, and it got so heavy that he had to rest his head on the cage bars for additional support.

By June 2017, an international team of experts was called in to address the deteriorating situation, a team that included animal welfare expert and veterinary surgeon Heather Bacon of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Caroline Nelson, a veterinary nurse at the Animals Asia Bear Rescue Centre in Vietnam, and Romain Pizzi from Wildlife Surgery International. The effort was funded by the Winton Foundation for the Welfare of Bears and Free the Bears.

The team traveled to Myanmar where they worked with local vets to carry out a tongue amputation. Working for three hours in soaring temperatures, the team managed to remove 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms) of tissue. It’s been several months since the procedure, and Nyan htoo—with a significantly reduced tongue—is doing well.

Nyan htoo after the surgery. (Image: The University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies)

“This was a really unusual medical condition—never before seen in any species of bear—but we weren’t about to give up on Nyan htoo,” noted Nelson in a release. “Now he will be able to eat much more comfortably, sleep in more natural positions and move more freely for the rest of his life.”

The veterinary team think the swelling was caused by a tropical disease known as Lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis. It’s a parasitic disease that’s transmitted by mosquitoes, and it’s the first time it’s been documented in a bear. For humans, Lymphatic filariasis is a major headache, causing intense swelling of the scrotum in men (a condition called hydrocele). The US Centers for Disease Control says it’s a “leading cause of permanent disability worldwide, and that communities “frequently shun and reject women and men disfigured by the disease.”


Thankfully for Nyan htoo, his ordeal is over, and he can get back to wrestling with his brother.

[University of Edinburgh]


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George Dvorsky

George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.