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Puzzle the African Painted Dog Succumbs to Cancer

He had been undergoing chemotherapy since June for a melanoma in his mouth

Nov. 14, 2022 - It is with a heavy heart that the ABQ BioPark says goodbye to Puzzle the African painted dog. Puzzle passed away on Sunday, November 6, after losing his fight with cancer.

Puzzle was born at the Sedgwick County Zoo on October 31, 2013. He came to the ABQ BioPark in March 2020. Here at the BioPark, he lived with female Cheza. Puzzle’s caretakers will miss him greatly.

Diagnosing and Treating Puzzle

Puzzle was diagnosed with cancer in the spring. During a routine exam on May 19, veterinary staff found tumors inside his mouth. Biopsy results later that month indicated he had a melanoma. One of the ABQ BioPark’s local advising veterinarians, an oncologist (cancer specialist), recommended that Puzzle start chemotherapy to treat his cancer, and treatments began on June 9. According to ABQ BioPark Senior Veterinarian Carol Bradford, Puzzle responded very well to the chemotherapy with no significant side effects. On a June 22 checkup, vet staff found that his tumors had gone down significantly, and an ABQ BioPark veterinarian removed what appeared to be the rest of the tumor in his mouth. By a September 22 exam, all looked good and the oncologist recommended that chemotherapy treatments be given every two months moving forward.

At the end of October, staff noticed that Puzzle’s face was a bit swollen. They treated him, and the swelling went down a bit but not completely. On November 3 and 4, staff noticed he was not eating well. They decided to sedate him to take a closer look on November 6. They found enlarged lymph nodes, and discovered that the cancer had spread to his lungs. Bradford said that they were a bit surprised, as he had seemed to be improving. At this point, the cancer had spread extensively enough that it would have been virtually untreatable and would only cause Puzzle pain. For this reason, the BioPark made the decision to euthanize him.

ABQ BioPark Contributing to Wildlife Cancer Research

Just like with humans, cancer is extremely prevalent in many animals. The African painted dog is one species that sees a high rate of cancer. In some species, like Tasmanian devils, cancer is presenting significant hurdles to the species’ conservation.

The ABQ BioPark takes part in important research performed by the Exotic Species Cancer Research Alliance, which is helping to pinpoint common causes of cancer across all species and improve veterinary cancer therapy for exotic species like painted dogs. The research can also help advance the understanding and treatment of cancers in humans. The ABQ BioPark donates samples of tissue from cancer patients, which the alliance uses to perform scientific research.

Global Conservation Efforts

The African painted dog is one of Africa’s most imperiled carnivores, listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered. Only about 5,000 exist in the wild; some of the species’ biggest threats to survival include habitat loss and fragmentation, human-wildlife contact, transmission of infectious diseases like canine distemper, and high mortality rates. The ABQ BioPark is part of the African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan, managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). At this time, the BioPark serves as a holding facility for the program.