Zoo elephant undergoes successful cancer procedure

Juno, an Asian elephant at El Paso Zoo, was treated with electrochemotherapy.

Joe Impellizeri, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), MRCVS, of Veterinary Oncology Services of Middletown, N.Y., Lisa DiBernardi, DVM, ACVIM, ACVR, of Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston, and the El Paso Zoo animal care team successfully performed electrochemotherapy on Juno, one of the zoo’s Asian elephants.

Juno was diagnosed with a malignant mass in her right mammary gland in January. After careful consideration due to her diagnosis and age, the zoo decided working with Dr. Impellizeri and Dr. DiBernardi on this procedure was the best course of action for Juno.

Juno was put under general anesthesia for approximately an hour and a half. During the procedure, the tumor was infused with a chemotherapy drug and then treated with a small electric pulse that draws the chemotherapy into the cancer cells.

The zoo’s short-term follow-up will be to monitor the site of Juno’s procedure. The tumor has reduced in size around 30 percent, and Juno continues to do well.  The zoo has scheduled a second treatment for September.

“We broke the tumor down into four quadrants and treated each quadrant with the electrochemotherapy,” said Impellizeri. “This is an extremely large tumor, the largest I’ve ever treated, but if you break it down into quadrants, you can treat it like four smaller tumors.”

“We are all glad the procedure was completed without any complications,” said Steve Marshall, zoo director. “Because Juno is a geriatric elephant, we were careful in selecting a course of action that minimized both risk and recovery time. This is a cutting edge procedure and is a great example of an accredited zoo’s capacity to provide professional and compassionate care for the well-being of its animals.”

Victoria Milne, DVM, El Paso Zoo veterinarian, said the next steps of Juno’s treatment will be dictated by her response to the electrochemotherapy.

“Depending on how she reacts to this procedure, she may undergo another round of electrochemotherapy,” said Dr. Milne. “This type of procedure, unlike invasive surgical procedures, allows for multiple treatments, so for now, we’ll monitor her and see how she does over the next few weeks.”

Juno is one of two Asian elephants at the El Paso Zoo. Asian elephants are endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature 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.

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