Photo: Oregon Zoo
Preliminary test results suggest Sung-Surin, a 34-year-old Asian elephant at the Oregon Zoo, is positive for tuberculosis, animal-care staff learned yesterday, and veterinarians are preparing to start her on an appropriate treatment regimen.
Caregivers say Sung-Surin — whose name is Thai for “sunshine” and is often simply called Shine — has shown no signs of illness and is otherwise in good health.
The zoo regularly tests all its elephants for TB by taking trunk-wash samples (collecting fluid from the trunk and sending it to a certified laboratory for testing) as part of its comprehensive health program.
“Getting these kinds of results early is critical for effective treatment,” said Dr. Tim Storms, the zoo’s lead veterinarian. “Shine has not shown any signs of illness, and with the proper medical care we’re optimistic that she never will. Our elephant-care team has great relationships with her, and that should be very helpful throughout the treatment process.”
After receiving the results, Dr. Storms immediately informed public health authorities to ensure the zoo’s safety protocols are effective and zoo visitors are not at risk.
“We have a long history of working collaboratively with zoo leadership with the safety of people and animals as the top priorities,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, deputy health officer for Multnomah County. Dr. Vines said the health department will be working closely with the Oregon Health Authority and zoo staff to evaluate this development.
No other elephant in the herd has tested positive, and Shine will be kept apart from the others for the initial phase of her treatment. All the elephants will be tested again and will continue to be monitored for any physical or behavioral changes while Shine is being treated. Veterinary staff will closely monitor Shine’s progress through trunk-wash samples, serology tests and bloodwork during her prescribed treatment regimen.
In recent years, the zoo has successfully treated TB in two other elephants, Rama and Tusko, adding to the collective knowledge about diagnostics and care. A third elephant, Packy, could not be treated successfully due to a variety of factors that included his advanced age, unpredictable musth cycles, reluctance to accept oral medications, and intolerance for isoniazid, one of the essential first-line TB medications.