Endangered Mexican wolves screened for rare cancer research at Brookfield Zoo

April 19, 2012 3:42:12 PM PDT
Brookfield Zoo's eight Mexican gray wolves are spending lots of time in the doctor's office these days -- getting checked out for a mysterious type of cancer.

The big bad wolf never had medical care like this, but then again -- this is no nursery rhyme. It's the real thing and the Brookfield Zoo Animal Hospital has rarely been this busy before. The zoo's Mexican gray wolves are all getting physicals: heartbeats and blood tests and all that, and then a special emphasis on mouth exams. They are looking for cancer in the nose.

"We are very conscious they can have this problem so we are examining the mouth to see if there is any chance of a tumor coming out of the nose," Dr. Carlos Sanchez, associate vet at Brookfield Zoo, said.

The rare cancer that isn't found much in dogs and other wolves. However, in the last 12 years, 14 cases of the cancer have been found in zoos in Mexico and the United States. So that's why modern technology is now involved to look inside the Mexican gray wolf.

"Right now part of the preventive medicine program is to run our animals through the scan and do a cat scan of the head and this is just to look for any evident of nasal tumors," Dr. Sanchez said. "We're calling it a wolf scan this time. That's a very good one."

Brookfield zoo has eight Mexican gray wolves and this week and next all of them will see the doctor and meet the wolf scan. It's necessary preventive medicine. The animal is endangered.

"Mexican Gray Wolves are critically endangered. There were only seven of them left back in the 1960's in the wild," Joan Daniels, associate curator of mammals, said.

Now there are almost 300 of the animals in zoos -- and 58 counted in the wild. It's hoped this research will determine the cause of the cancer and possibly a cure.

"We have done four animals including yesterday and today. We have not seen any evidence of the tumors in the wolves so far," Dr. Sanchez.

The sleepy wolves are now awake and already back on exhibit.


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