Packy celebrates 52nd as TB care continues

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Packy, the Oregon Zoo's beloved elephant, celebrated his 52nd birthday Monday by devouring a 40-pound cake.

As Packy, the Oregon Zoo’s beloved elephant, celebrated his 52nd birthday Monday by devouring a 40-pound cake, the veterinary staff caring for him plotted their next move in the challenging work of treating his tuberculosis.

Today, they plan to resume medicating him for the chronic respiratory infection first detected last summer.

He previously had difficulty tolerating one of the two anti-tubercular drugs prescribed, so treatment has started and stopped a couple times. The drug isoniazid, considered the front-line medication for TB, seems to have caused Packy to go off his food and elevate his liver enzymes. Treatment also includes the drug pyrazidamide.

This time, says zoo veterinarian Tim Storms, the veterinary crew and keepers plan to start Packy on lower doses and build slowly to recommended doses. They also hope to try some creative new delivery systems, encapsulating a powdered form of the drugs in dessert-like packaging, masking the medicine’s unpleasant taste.

Meanwhile, Packy’s 30-year-old son, Rama, who also is being treated for TB, is tolerating the drugs perfectly.

Treating TB in elephants is notoriously difficult. Since the Oregon Zoo’s two animals first tested positive last year, its veterinarians have worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local and state authorities, and consulted with wildlife veterinarians and researchers elsewhere in a search for the best insights and new approaches.

Packy and Rama have been separated from the rest of the herd since their diagnosis. Each, however, still gets to spend time outdoors every day.

Given the situation, the zoo on Monday skipped the big Packy birthday party thrown annually, replacing it with a quieter affair. Still, the 12,000-plus-pound pachyderm had the chance to munch on a whole-wheat birthday cake, frosted with buttercream and topped with carrots, bananas, apples and sweet potatoes.