From: Jacob Adelman, Associated Press
Published October 6, 2005 12:00 AM

Vets Operate on Giraffe for Skin Cancer

WASHINGTON — National Zoo veterinarians treated a giraffe Wednesday morning for a tumor on its head that is the first case of skin cancer reported among the tall spotted creatures.

The 13-foot-tall Jafari was back on his feet and in seeming good health in his habitat following the 45-minute procedure that involved 28 people, said the zoo's chief veterinarian, Suzan Murray.

But Murray said the medical team -- which included a giraffe specialist from Florida and a physician from Children's Hospital -- was only able to remove 90 percent of the tumor, so the animal's prognosis was "poor to guarded."

"It's a poorer prognosis than we had hoped for," Murray said. "The cancer appears to have infiltrated the bone."

Because of the rarity of Jafari's condition, much of the medical procedure had never been attempted before, zoo officials said. Merely administering anesthesia to the animal was difficult because of its awkward size and giraffes' tendency to regurgitate, which could choke him while unconscious.


Zoo staff had to rig a special padded ladder on which to rest Jafari's head, so they could lower it as the anesthesia took effect. Other personnel massaged Jafari's 6-foot neck to keep it from developing kinks during the surgery.

The procedure was completed on a giant tarp, which about 15 people used to lift the 1,400-pound animal back to its habitat after the operation, officials said. Jafari stood up on his first attempt: a good sign, officials said, because giraffes who have to struggle to their feet after surgery often don't survive.

Jafari is being treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics, and veterinarians are discussing a chemotherapy regimen, officials said. But Murray said that even if Jafari doesn't survive his cancer, the process of diagnosing and treating the condition will have taught veterinarians a lot about caring for giraffes.

"Even though the prognosis is poor, to some extent it's really paving the way for managing giraffes in zoos," she said.

Source: Associated Press

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