Reid Park Zoo pioneers cutting edge Jaguar medicine

TUCSON, Arizona – Nikita and her sister love playing and exploring new things at Reid Park Zoo – and the animal care staff love improving her quality of life.

Nikita and her sister, Simone, age 20, are two of the oldest jaguars in the United States. These elderly jaguars require a lot of special care. The Zoo is committed to providing whole-life care to every one of its animal residents, so the animal care staff spend a lot of time carefully observing the jaguars, feeding them special diets, and caring for age-related issues.

Recently, after animal care staff noticed Nikita was feeling lethargic, a complete exam by Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Alexis Moreno, revealed a severely low red blood cell count. Nikita was immobilized and immediately given blood to save her life.

“Participating in this kind of advanced animal medicine is amazing,” said Zoo Administrator Jason Jacobs. “What a fantastic benefit: we get to provide the highest standard of medical care for our animals, and help with jaguars and other large cats worldwide live longer, better lives.”

When a red blood cell count drops, the only medical solution is a transfusion. Except Nikita is jaguar.

“There just isn’t any research on multiple blood transfusions in jaguars at all,” Moreno said. “There’s a little bit of information on lion transfusions, which is technology we also contributed to, but everything we are doing is breaking research, cutting edge technology – and we’re doing it to save Nikita’s life. For us, it’s worth all the extra effort because her quality of life here at Reid Park Zoo is excellent.”

The extra effort included traveling across the state to Bearizona, near Flagstaff, to meet Nikita’s most recent blood donor Bagheera. Bagheera is a young male jaguar, and like Nikita, he has Type A blood. Cats generally have two blood types, but little is known about jaguar blood, which is why Moreno and the veterinary team are making another special effort – research contributions on this type of therapy for the future. But they couldn’t do it without a little help from several four-legged blood donors.

“We of course wanted to help and after some discussions with our veterinary team, we decided it was a great opportunity to help out a jaguar in need,” said Bearizona CEO Sean Casey.  “This time of year is all about giving, and what better gift than to help a friend in need. We are happy we were able to help and wish Nikita a speedy recovery.”

Nikita’s first transfusion was from domestic house cats. Her second was from her sister, Simone.

Nikita and Simone can be seen on exhibit at the Zoo. Staff is monitoring both jaguars so they receive the highest standard of care and around-the-clock medical attention and behavioral observation.

“Animal wellness is our top priority and if we can help other large cats in the process, then we will do everything possible to contribute to the growing body of research,” said General Curator Sue Tygielski. “. We would never let an animal suffer or prolong its life for the sake of research. Everything we are doing is because Nikita has an excellent quality of life, and we’re committed to keeping it that way.”

According to International Union for Conservation of Nature, jaguars are near threatened in the wild. Populations are rapidly declining in southern regions of the United States, Mexico and South America.


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