Breakthroughs in giraffe medical care made at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has announced two medical breakthroughs in giraffe veterinary care.

The veterinary teams have used stem cell transfusion therapy and custom-made “sneakers” to treat giraffes at the zoo.

Liza Dadone, vice president of mission and programs and head veterinarian for Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and staff of the Colorado State University James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital were able to grow stem cells from giraffe blood to then inject back into the giraffe.

That treatment is believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

A 14-year-old giraffe, Mahali, had chronic lameness and had not been moving well.

Mahali had been given medication and other treatments, but he wasn’t getting better. Dadone decided to try the stem cell injection treatment plan.

Stem cell therapy can repair damaged tissue at the cellular level.

About a month ago, Mahali was injected with 100 million stem cells. Dadone reviewed thermographic images of Mahali’s front legs before and after the procedure.

The photos show a decline in inflammation in Mahali’s front left leg, which had been having issues.

The procedure was deemed a success, although experts aren’t sure if it was solely because of the stem cell therapy or a combination of several therapies.

“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 giraffe in the near future,” Dadone said.

Another Cheyenne Mountain Zoo giraffe, 14-year-old female Twiga, has advanced arthritis and osteoporosis in her feet. A farrier specialist had the idea to make special shoes for Twiga.

Zookeepers and farriers from the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization were able to glue the “shoe” to her sole.

Dadone said the change in Twiga’s behavior was immediate. She shifted her weight off of her right foot, indicating she was comfortable and her pain had considerably lessened.

The shoes help to stabilize Twiga and will likely stay on for around six weeks.

Dadone said she is eager to share the information she’s gathered from the treatments with other veterinary teams at fellow zoos.