Juno the Elephant | Photo courtesy El Paso Zoo

EP Zoo: Juno the Elephant recovering after successful Breast Cancer surgery

On Saturday, officials with the El Paso Zoo announced that Juno, their 54-year old female Asian elephant, is recovering well after removal of a malignant mass in her right mammary gland, commonly known as breast cancer.  

“Thanks to a great effort by our internal team, her keepers and some volunteer friends from the community. Juno’s surgery went better than we expected,” said El Paso Zoo Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Vikki Milne. “She is awake walking around on her own and hungry, which are all good signs!”

Zoo staff will continue to monitor her throughout the next coming weeks to make sure everything is healing properly.

“Juno is a fighter and for the last five years she has been fighting this awful cancer,” said El Paso Zoo Director, Joe Montisano.

“Today was no exception – she was under anesthesia for 2.5 hours, we reversed her and she stood up like a champ. Juno still has a long road to recovery in front of her, but she is strong and will continue to get better every day.”

Veterinarian staff performed the surgery Saturday, November 14, at the El Paso Zoo.

Juno received her first three rounds of electro-chemotherapy in 2017 and 2018. The mass responded to these treatments, and decreased in size. In October 2019, December 2019 and February 2020, Juno was placed under general anesthesia to perform additional electro-chemotherapy treatments, along with a localized Interleukin 12 (IL-12) gene therapy treatment to enhance her immune system’s ability to recognize and fight the tumor.

During the procedures, the tumor was infused with a chemotherapy drug and the IL-12 gene, then treated with a small electric pulse to drive the agents into the cancer cells.

These treatments carried out over the last four years, kept the tumor small and added to Juno’s quality of life. Unfortunately, the tumor had stopped responding to the last treatment and had become more aggressive.

According to veterinary experts, surgical removal of the mass or hospice care and eventual euthanasia were the only options available. Staff had elected to attempt surgical removal in a final effort to treat the cancer and prolong Juno’s life.

Cancer treatments, including surgeries for Juno, have been made possible in part by the support of the El Paso Zoological Society.