EL PASO, Texas (Jan. 24, 2017)– The animal care staff at the El Paso Zoo have received a biopsy report indicating a mass in 49-year-old Asian elephant Juno’s right mammary gland appears malignant, meaning the cells in the mass are exhibiting cancerous characteristics.
These results come after several months of close observation and multiple diagnostic procedures. Since receiving the biopsy results, the Zoo veterinarians have been actively researching safe treatment options and consulting with national elephant health experts to determine the best course of action moving forward.
“Cancer of any kind is extremely rare in elephants,” Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Victoria Milne said. “There is no record of a malignant mammary gland tumor ever reported in all of veterinary literature or in the collective veterinary knowledge.”
Since there is not any veterinary literature or research on mammary gland cancer in elephants, there is no way to predict if or how Juno’s mass will progress. Utilizing existing techniques for determining the possible spread and migration of the cancer, such as ultrasounds and X-rays, is not an option because of Juno’s size.
“When a human is diagnosed with cancer, treatment decisions are based on the results gathered from very specific test results and a long history of thousands of cases and outcomes,” Milne said. “For elephants, none of that information exists. So, while the mass looks malignant on a microscopic level, there is no way to be sure what will happen next and there is no previous treatment experience to guide us.”
As the El Paso Zoo veterinary staff continues investigating viable treatment options, some known factors they are continually taking into consideration are the high risks of anesthesia and surgery in geriatric elephants, and elephants’ frequent difficulty in healing from surgical procedures.
“Currently, there are no verified safe treatment options, and only one team has previously performed an elephant mammary gland removal,” Milne said. “No one knows how harmful this mass may or may not be to Juno’s health, but we do know that all of the traditional cancer treatment options could be highly damaging. Healing from this kind of invasive surgical procedure could take up to two years because elephant surgical wounds very frequently become infected and have delayed healing – and it could be incredibly difficult for Juno.”
The El Paso Zoo is taking a conservative approach while continuing to gather additional information. Because of the extreme rarity of cancer in elephants, national elephant experts, including Dr. Michele Miller,
Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Program veterinary advisor, are being consulted. At this time, there are not any elephant health experts who are recommending surgical removal of the mass.
“Surgery in elephants is a serious decision. Healing is often slow and can result in other problems such as infection,” Miller said. “In Juno’s case, it seems prudent to take a more conservative approach to minimize any discomfort and complications associated with surgery.”
Zoo veterinarians and keeper staff are continuing to carefully monitor Juno’s overall health and wellbeing.
Moving forward, the Zoo’s veterinarians will be consulting further with veterinary cancer treatment specialists and the veterinarians who performed the one known previous elephant mastectomy procedure. These additional insights and recommendations will assist staff in creating the best care plan for Juno.
“Our main concern, as always, is Juno’s welfare, wellbeing and stress levels,” Zoo Director Steve Marshall said. “Each of these factors will be constantly taken into consideration when exploring potential treatment options.”
Asian elephants are endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the classifying authority for species worldwide. Both of the Asian elephants at the El Paso Zoo are elderly, with ages beyond the average life expectancy for Asian elephants.
EL PASO, Texas – Each year on January 10, the United States celebrates Save the Eagles Day. For the El Paso Zoo, however, every day is an opportunity to care for and protect these majestic birds.
Over the past ten years, the El Paso Zoo has played an integral role in nursing injured and ill golden eagles back to health. According to Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Victoria Milne, each of these eagles would likely have died from illness or injury were it not for the efforts of the Zoo’s veterinary staff and rehab partners such as Last Chance Forever Bird of Prey Conservancy in San Antonio and Gila Wildlife Rescue in Silver City, New Mexico.
“Our vet team treats the eagles for injuries like fractures and gunshot wounds and infections like West Nile Virus,” explained Dr. Milne. “Once they are healthy, we send them to a wildlife rehabilitator where they prepare the eagles to be released. Like any athlete, the eagles have to get back in shape to fly in the wild after being in the hospital recovering and healing.”
Golden eagles are the national bird of Mexico and one of the largest birds in North America. Known to be impressive hunters, these powerful birds are able to dive at more than 150 miles per hour. When birds of prey such as golden eagles are removed from an area due to injury or illness, the impact on the ecology is profound, making rehabilitation efforts vital to ensure healthy ecosystems.
“We have worked with the El Paso Zoo to release hundreds of hawks, falcons, owls, and eagles,” said Dennis Miller, founder of Gila Wildlife Rescue. “This kind of success rate is almost unheard of in rehab work. The expertise and compassion of the Zoo’s veterinary staff is both impressive and heartwarming. We are so glad that we have developed this wonderful partnership with them.”
In addition to caring for golden eagles, the El Paso Zoo is now home to a male bald eagle named Patriot. Patriot is a rehabilitated bird who could not be released into the wild because of permanent damaged caused by a previous leg injury. Currently, he is working with The Birdman, Joe Krathwohl, to acclimate to his new surroundings before meeting the El Paso community during the Zoo’s daily Wings of the World bird show.
To learn more about the El Paso Zoo, visit elpasozoo.org. More information about Gila Wildlife Rescue can be found on the organization’s Facebook page.
EL PASO, Texas – On Saturday, October 22, the El Paso Zoo said goodbye to its seven female Thomson’s gazelles, who began their journey to the San Diego Zoo. On May 17, 2016, the Zoo’s four male Thomson’s gazelles were also transferred and are now living at the North Carolina Zoological Park.
“We are very happy to know the gazelles all went to such highly-respected zoos,” El Paso Zoo Director Steve Marshall said. “As an Association of Zoos & Aquariums-accredited zoo, ensuring the animals’ continued welfare is one of our top priorities.”
The El Paso Zoo’s gazelle exhibit first opened in 2010. For six years, the African savannah exhibit was home to a healthy herd of Thomson’s gazelles. As herd dynamics changed with multiple births, the Zoo determined that the exhibit design was better suited to a more hearty type of African hoof stock.
With the departure of the gazelles, the Zoo will begin the process of determining which new animals to welcome to the African savannah exhibit. Some animals being considered are addax, eland and oryx.
For more information about the El Paso Zoo, visit elpasozoo.org.