Twin orangutans gather Easter eggs during an Easter egg hunt at Jungle Island on April 1, 2010. At left is Peanut with sister Pumpkin. They are six-year-old twin sisters.
A beloved orangutan at Jungle Island faces a fight for life after being diagnosed with lymphoma.
Peanut, an 8-year-old female at the Watson Island animal attraction, has a team of medical experts lined up ready to monitor her health and give her treatment. But the future remains uncertain for the orangutan, one of six at the Watson Island theme park and the fraternal twin of Pumpkin.
The diagnosis of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is rare in the primate world, said Dr. Norman Altman, a pathologist and veterinarian at UM’s Miller School of Medicine Division of Comparative Pathology. But doctors are optimistic that the cancer is curable.
Peanut started behaving strangely about two months ago. Her appetite dipped and she showed less energy than usual. So her caretakers put her through a series of tests to see if anything was wrong.
Jungle Island’s general curator and veterinarian, Dr. Jason Chatfield, said the team collected blood samples and did an ultrasound. Peanut had irregular bowel movements. Further testing revealed she had intestinal blockage.
Miami Veterinary Specialists operated on her and cut out a piece of her small intestine, which had been squeezed down by adhesions around the outside wall and stopped the normal flow of her digestive tract. Chatfield said he sent the snipped tissue sample to get tested at Zoo/Exotic Pathology Service in California and they called to tell him Peanut had cancer.
To verify the diagnosis, samples were sent to the University of Miami’s Dr. Carolyn Cray, who specializes in pathology services for veterinarians. She handed them to Dr. Offiong Ikpatt, a UM hematopathologist, and he confirmed the conclusion.
“We weren’t thinking anything like cancer,” Chatfield said.
Peanut’s handlers want her to spend as much time as possible with her twin sister as her health changes.
The treatment process will be difficult but he said there’s a “world class team” fighting behind her.
The team includes Dr. Joseph D. Rosenblatt, a hemotologist and oncologist at Miller. Although he has never worked with animals directly, he is developing Peanut’s treatment regimen.
He said the orangutan’s lymphoma is the most common type found in humans and is curable depending on the stage of the illness. Typically, 60 to 70 percent of people with this variation of lymphoma survive, he said. Chemotherapy and chemoimmunotherapy are the two most-used procedures and will likely be used in some variation during Peanut’s recovery.
Rosenblatt said the biggest challenge is the treatment procedure.
“It’s a plan in evolution,” Rosenblatt said. “Even though it’s a very wonderful animal, it’s not a cooperative patient.”