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Cheyenne Mountain Zoo makes medical history with 'giraffe sneakers,' stem cell treatments

May 28, 2017 Updated: May 28, 2017 at 1:57 pm
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photo - Twiga, a 14-year-old female giraffe with advanced arthritis and osteoporosis in her feet, was fitted with custom shoes. (Photo courtesy of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.)
Twiga, a 14-year-old female giraffe with advanced arthritis and osteoporosis in her feet, was fitted with custom shoes. (Photo courtesy of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.) 

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo appears to have made medical history with its innovative giraffe treatments.

Mahali, a 14-year-old male giraffe who suffered from chronic lameness, is believed to be the first in the world to be injected with stem cells grown from giraffe blood, according to a news release from the zoo.

Stem cell therapy was chosen in the treatments led by Dr. Liza Dadone, the zoo's head veterinarian, because it has proven to repair damaged tissue. Staff at Colorado State University's James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins helped with the treatment.

Nearly a month after the procedure, when Mahali was injected with about 100 million stem cells, thermographic images of the giraffe's front legs show "a considerable decline" in inflammation in his front left leg, the leg that had been giving him trouble, the zoo said.

"This is meaningful to us not only because it is the first time a giraffe has been treated with stem cells, but especially because it is bringing Mahali some arthritis relief and could help other giraffes in the near future," Dadone said in a written statement.

A thermographic image of Mahali's front legs before his procedure. The 14-year-old male giraffe, who suffered from chronic lameness and had not been moving well, is believed to be the first in the world to be injected with stem cells grown from giraffe blood. (Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.) 

Dadone said it's not clear whether the successful results are due only to the stem cell treatment or a combination of treatments.

"Prior to the procedure, he was favoring his left front leg and would lift that foot off the ground almost once per minute," she said in the statement. "During the immobilization, we did multiple treatments that included hoof trims, stem cell therapy and other medications. "Since then, Mahali is no longer constantly lifting his left front leg off the ground and has resumed cooperating for hoof care. A few weeks ago, he returned to life with his herd, including yard access. On the thermogram, the marked inflammation up the leg has mostly resolved."

Twiga, a 14-year-old female giraffe with advanced arthritis and osteoporosis in her feet, was fitted with custom shoes with the help of farriers Steve Foxworth and Chris Niclas of the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization.

"We've had Twiga on medicine to help reverse her osteoporosis, but we wanted to do more to protect her feet. So with the help of the farriers, we gave her 'giraffe sneakers' to help give her some extra cushion," Dadone said in a written statement.

Twiga, a 14-year-old female giraffe with advanced arthritis and osteoporosis in her feet, was fitted with custom shoes. (Photo courtesy of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.) 

The giraffe's behavior was immediately changed - "Twiga instantly shifted her weight off of her right foot, indicating she was comfortable and her pain had considerably lessened" - but she will likely wear the shoes for about six more weeks, the zoo said.

Giraffes' size can make them more susceptible to issues like arthritis and osteoporosis. "Like all animals, these issues are exacerbated as they age," according to the zoo news release.

The zoo has a herd of 17 giraffes, including a newborn in April. The calf, a girl, was the 199th to be born in the 63-year history of the zoo's breeding program.

Giraffes' status was recently changed from "least concern" to "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because the population in the wild has decreased by 40 percent in the last 30 years, the zoo said.

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Contact Ellie Mulder: 636-0198

Twitter: @lemarie

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