Asian elephant Sung-Surin to be treated for tuberculosis

Oregon Zoo animal-care staff focuses on health regimen for elephant known as 'Shine'

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.

The Oregon Zoo is recognized worldwide for its Asian elephant program, which has spanned more than 60 years. Considered highly endangered in their range countries, Asian elephants are threatened by habitat loss, conflict with humans and disease. It is estimated that just 40,000 to 50,000 elephants remain in fragmented populations from India to Borneo. The zoo supports a broad range of efforts to help wild elephants, and recently established a $1 million endowment fund supporting Asian elephant conservation.

The Oregon Zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
 
The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs. The zoo is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26 at exit 72. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Find fare and route information online or by calling TriMet Customer Service at 503-238-RIDE (7433).
 
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available by calling 503-226-1561.

Media contact: 

Hova Najarian | 503-220-5714 | hova.najarian@oregonzoo.org