El PASO, Texas – (March 3, 2017) The El Paso Zoo has chosen a treatment protocol for Juno, our 49-year-old Asian elephant. She was diagnosed with a malignant mass in her right mammary gland in January, and the El Paso Zoo team discussed her case with elephant experts and veterinary specialists around the United States to determine the best course of action. Cancer is rare in elephants, and this type of tumor has never been previously reported.

With the assistance of Dr. Joe Impellizeri of Veterinary Oncology Services in New York and Dr. Lisa DiBernardi of Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston, TX, Juno will receive a new tumor treatment that involves localized chemotherapy enhanced with electro-stimulation to the site, known as electrochemotherapy. This procedure will take place later this month. Juno will be put under general anesthesia for a short time. The tumor will then be infused with a chemotherapy drug and then treated with a small electric pulse to make it more susceptible to the chemotherapy drug.

This advanced procedure requires a much smaller amount of the chemotherapy drug and reduces the side effects that come with chemotherapy drugs in her system. “We’re encouraged to have found a treatment option that is more aggressive than monitoring but without the risks that come with an invasive surgery or traditional chemotherapy,” said Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Victoria Milne.  “There is less risk with this treatment, but we’re still tackling this tumor.“ Given Juno’s size and age, there is always a certain level of risk when going under general anesthesia. This less invasive treatment also minimizes her time under anesthesia compared to surgery.

Dr. DiBernardi is double board-certified in veterinary medical and radiation oncology. “I am enthusiastic and honored to participate in Juno’s care at the El Paso Zoo,” DiBernardi said. “We are all optimistic the nontraditional approach will control her cancer while offering an excellent quality of life.” Dr. Impellizeri, a board-certified veterinary oncologist, echoed her sentiments. “I am privileged to be involved in Juno’s cancer treatment. We are hopeful that this advanced, targeted cancer treatment with electrochemotherapy will control Juno’s cancer and provide a shorter recovery period.”

 “We are fortunate to be working with Dr. DiBernardi and Dr. Impellizeri”, said Zoo Director, Steve Marshall. “They are incredibly experienced veterinary oncologists, and we are glad they are available to provide Juno with this kind of care. Juno’s a member of our Zoo family, and this is just what we do when one of our animals needs treatment. We use our means and resources to provide care.”

Asian elephants are endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the classifying authority for species worldwide. Both Asian elephants at the El Paso Zoo are elderly, with ages beyond the average life expectancy for Asian elephants. Asian elephants are also one of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) SAFE species. SAFE stands for “saving animals from extinction,” and the program focuses the collective expertise within AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and leverages their massive audiences to save species.

El PASO, Texas - (March 2, 2017) The El Paso Zoo staff is saddened over the loss of 14-year-old Mexican wolf, Ivy. Ivy was born at the Colombus Zoo, transfered to the Cincinnati Zoo and was later transferred to the El Paso Zoo. She has been a part of the El Paso Zoo family for over 12 years.

“I’ve been at the Zoo for almost 20 years, so I’ve been with Ivy since she first got here,” said Area Supervisor Tony Zydonyk. “She was a longtime resident and a great animal. Everybody loved her, and she’s going to be missed.”

Ivy passed away some time during the night and was found this morning. The male Mexican wolf, Zephyr, and other female wolf, Ash, appear to be in good health. Her death was unexpected, and at this time, the cause of death is unknown. A full necropsy is being scheduled to gather more information.

The El Paso Zoo has worked diligently in efforts to conserve the Mexican wolf. In addition to the wolves that currently live at the Zoo, the Zoo has sponsored various Mexican wolf conservation efforts, and recently, Zoo staff has worked with the Turner Endangered Species Fund (TESF) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to vaccinate, examine and treat eleven Mexican wolves that were released into the wild. 

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.