Zoo forced to euthanize elderly jaguar suffering from cancer

Posted at: 01/18/2013 11:00 AM
Updated at: 01/18/2013 5:44 PM
By: KOB.com staff

Photo: Courtesy ABQ BioPark
Photo: Courtesy ABQ BioPark

The Albuquerque BioPark says it was forced to euthanize Merlina, a 12-year-old female jaguar, on Thursday after the animal became ill with cancer that had spread.

Zoo official say they first found the cancer in July in her mammary glands. Animal care staff had been treating the jaguar for the past six months.

This is the third age-related death of a zoo animal this month.

Ginger the capybara was euthanized for age-related mobility issues on Jan. 3. She was 11.

Zaki the koala was euthanized for age-related complications on Jan 9. He was 18.

Earlier this week, Merlina started showing signs of discomfort, so veterinarians performed a CT scan and saw that the cancer had spread to her brain and lungs.

"Merlina was a great jaguar- always happy, playful and affectionate," said senior zookeeper Valarie Chavez in a news release.  "I've been working with cats for 13 years, and losing an animal never gets easier."

Animal care staff had performed two surgeries to remove tumors and was conducting monthly check-ups.

They had begun working with the Vet Care Animal Hospital and Referral Center (VCA) on a treatment plan, including chemotherapy, to slow or stop the spread of cancer.

Dr. Dianne Schrempp, an oncologist who regularly uses chemo to treat animals, and other VCA specialists generously donated their time, equipment and expertise to help diagnose and treat Merlina.

Although mammary tumors are not unusual in large cats in zoos, Merlina's sudden decline in health was sad and unexpected.

"She was doing beautifully, but started showing signs of head tremors and appeared unbalanced a few days ago," said Dr. Ralph Zimmerman, Head Veterinarian at the ABQ BioPark.

"We were really broken-hearted to see her in this condition after months of intensive monitoring. Staff and guests are very attached to our animals and no one wants to see them go."

According to the zoo's news release, Merlina came to the ABQ BioPark in November 2006 and would have turned 13 this July. She enjoyed playing with her big, blue ball, napping in the sun and uncovering treats hidden in enrichment items. She was a favorite among animal care staff and visitors and will be missed.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) are South America's largest cats and can live up to 15 years.

Unlike many cats, jaguars are good swimmers and often hunt for fish, turtles and other river animals. They can kill larger prey, like deer or capybaras, with one powerful bite. These mighty hunters are named after the Native American word yaguar, which means "one who kills with one leap."

Unfortunately, jaguars are threatened by habitat loss and by poachers who kill them for their unique coats.