PORTLAND -- The Oregon Zoo’s iconic Asian elephant Packy is not responding well to his tuberculosis medicine, so veterinarians have redesigned his treatment regimen.
Packy was diagnosed with tuberculosis last July. He has not shown any signs of illness, but veterinarians decided to begin treating him anyway.
Recently, a culture obtained from Packy’s trunk found that the TB has become active inside of him. He is 51 years old and the oldest male elephant in North America.
Zoo veterinarians have had to stop Packy’s treatment plan twice, due to complications. Now they are reevaluating it and restarting once again.
"It's the same thing that is seen in humans sometimes, but with elephants everything is on a much larger scale," said Mitch Finnegan, the zoo's lead veterinarian. "We need to make sure Packy's system can tolerate the medication and that he is eating and getting all the nutrition he needs. We take a very measured approach and monitor him very closely."
Veterinarians have modified the dosage and hope this will bring Packy’s appetite back.
"The effects of the medications — which are the same ones used in human TB cases — can vary quite a bit from patient to patient,” said Finnegan. “Packy seems to be more sensitive to one of the drugs, so we're going to try starting him on smaller amounts and work up to a full dosage."
Packy's son Rama was diagnosed with TB last May. He is nearly a third of the way through his 18-month treatment regimen and doing well, according to zoo veterinarians. The zoo routinely tests all its elephants for TB by taking an annual trunk culture and sending it to a certified laboratory for testing. TB has been reported in elephants as far back as 1875 and has a history of successful treatment at several North American elephant facilities.
Lookback: Packy then and now
Packy made worldwide news in 1962 as the first elephant born in captivity in 44 years. The 225-pound bundle of joy came into the world on April 14, just before 6 a.m.
Fans celebrated Packy's 51st birthday in a big way at the Oregon Zoo last April. The event was also met with some protests over animals in captivity.
Photos: Packy's 51st birthday party