The El Paso Zoo has chosen a treatment protocol for Juno, the 49-year-old Asian elephant diagnosed with a malignant mass in her right mammary gland in January.
The 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, Juno will receive a new tumor treatment that involves localized chemotherapy enhanced with electro-stimulation to the site, known as electrochemotherapy.
The procedure will take place later this month with Juno being 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.