Treating elephants for TB a challenge for zoo

Treating elephants for TB a challenge for zoo


by KGW reporter Pat Dooris

Bio | Email | Follow: @PatDoorisKGW

Posted on August 15, 2013 at 5:56 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 15 at 6:57 PM

PORTLAND -- Veterinarians and keepers are treating two elephants at the Oregon Zoo for tuberculosis and they are giving the handlers trouble.

The disease attacks the respiratory system and can be fatal if left untreated.

It first turned up in male elephant Rama during routine tests. Later blood tests found it in Packy too. They’re the first TB cases at the Oregon Zoo and word of the disease worried many who gathered today to watch little Lily enjoy her first summer.

“I hope they get better quick. We would not want them to be sick,” said Jennifer Devries as she and her 2-year-old son watched Lily.

Many at the zoo love the elephants.

“We certainly come up a lot and it would be tragic to lose a couple of the elephants, so we certainly hope they’re doing better,” said James Walton.

The two infected male elephants are being kept separate from the rest of the herd. The plan is to give them a mix of four drugs which would fill a half-liter bottle, once a day for a year. Last weekend they ran into trouble.

The zoo’s senior veterinarian, Mitch Finnegan said Rama refused to take his medicine.

“Kind of expect that sort of thing when we have long term medications especially ones that don’t taste very good. We think we have it dialed in with a certain recipe and then after weeks or months the animal decides they’re done with it and we have to go back to the drawing board,” said Finnegan.

Keepers mixed vanilla pudding with the medicine and grain and Rama is eating it again.

But Packy has entered a hormonal phase called musth which increases his testosterone and makes him uncooperative.

“We just stopped the treatment because we didn’t want to treat him intermittently. We’d just started with a few doses at that point and we didn’t want to give him one today then wait a week give him another dose. So we’re just gonna wait for him to come out of musth,” said Finnegan.

Vets at the zoo aren’t sure how the elephants got TB but they hope the year long attack will bring a cure. So do the many fans of the elephants.

“I like the elephants because they’re big and they're always cleaning themselves and they have a baby,” said 8-year-old Zach Frazier.

Zoo leaders say the public is not in danger of catching TB from the elephants because they are not close enough to the animals. Keepers who clean up after Packy and Rama wear special face masks to protect them.