Life is like a bed of roses…primroses


Worf, Reid Park Zoo’s male Andean bear, has been a visitor favorite for years. He often rolls and plays in the pink primrose flowers in his habitat or wades in his pool during the summer heat. Worf is always curious about enrichment items involving food and has always had a great appetite.

During normal routine check-ups of the bear, Keepers noticed he had a small wound on his front paw. The Zoo’s veterinarian was informed and she started traditional therapies for a wound like foot soaks, antibiotics, antifungals and even cold laser therapy. He participated well in the treatments, however, his wound never fully healed. After a biopsy of the wound, the vet diagnosed Worf with a squamous cell carcinoma of the skin on his foot pad.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a common form of skin cancer that develops in the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layer of the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually not life-threatening, though it can be aggressive in some cases. Untreated, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin can grow large or spread to other parts of your body, causing serious complications.

Worf is a charismatic bear who was fully engaged in working with Keepers on a variety of treatments. However, cancer was an unexpected diagnosis that surprised the Keepers. They anxiously looked to the vet, Dr. Alexis Moreno, for guidance. From this point forward, she knew his care was going to become more complicated. The animal care and veterinarian team were determined to ensure Worf maintained a high quality of life even after this diagnosis.

Reid Park Zoo partnered with the Oncology Team at Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty Clinic to determine the best course of action for treatment. After reviewing all options, it was determined the best course of action was four radiation treatments over the course of a month. Unfortunately, the machine involved was not portable which meant the bear had to travel to the Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty Clinic facility for treatment. Everyone involved understood the magnitude of transporting a large bear across Tucson. These procedures require a lot of teamwork from all parties involved.

Once the plan was established, Reid Park Zoo’s vet carefully reviewed it with all team members. Each person, from the vet technician to the staff designated to carry the sleeping bear, all knew their role during the treatment process.

Each week, after being sedated, Worf was carefully transported in a large crate to the clinic treatment room. Once the Veterinary team gave him the needed treatment, he was carefully carried back to his crate for the return ride home. Back at the Zoo, he was returned to his night house where our animal care team monitored him carefully and treated him with pain medication as needed. His keepers ensured he remained comfortable during his radiation treatments, making soft hay beds and offering special food treats.

Worf has since completed his treatments and Reid Park Zoo’s vet continues to monitor his paw and overall health. She believes his prognosis is good and that the right choice was made. Treatment and transport were complicated but it was worth it to prevent the spread of cancer and eliminate the pain in his paw. Worf is currently in his habitat, back to the pool, playing in the primrose and sleeping in the nest he creates in a hollowed tree.