Seneca Park Zoo Masai giraffe Kipenzi has cancer

Kipenzi, a female Masai giraffe who is part of Seneca Park Zoo’s Animals of the Savanna exhibit, has cancer.

A biopsy the 6-year-old underwent Aug. 15 revealed a growth on her jaw to be squamous cell carcinoma that has invaded the bone, the zoo and Monroe County officials announced Thursday afternoon.

“Given the location of the tumor within the bone of the jaw, there is no way to remove it without compromising Kipenzi’s ability to eat and ruminate, or chew cud,” zoo veterinarian Dr. Chris McKinney said in a statement. “The prognosis is poor. This type of tumor is rare in giraffes, but in the few cases reported, the cancer spreads into the lymph nodes. Kipenzi is currently doing very well and does not require any medication. She is showing no signs of discomfort and is eating well.”

Kipenzi, a 6-year-old Masai giraffe that is part of Seneca Park Zoo's Animals of the Savanna exhibit, has cancer.
Kipenzi, a 6-year-old Masai giraffe that is part of Seneca Park Zoo's Animals of the Savanna exhibit, has cancer.

McKinney and his team will continue to watch Kipenzi closely for changes in the tumor and in Kipenzi’s behavior, including her appetite, how much she eats and her weight.

As the mass grows, it can damage the roots of her teeth, so she will be monitored with monthly X-rays, the statement said.

“This monitoring will help us to determine if she is in pain from the growth of the tumor. If we see concerning changes, we can use pain medications to keep her comfortable,” McKinney said.“Unfortunately, this tumor will grow to a point that it causes severe pain in her jaw and prevents her from being able to eat. If we are seeing signs that Kipenzi is in pain and medications are not helping her, then we will have to make the difficult decision for euthanasia to prevent her from suffering.”

Said County Executive Adam Bello: “Sadly, these biopsy results are not what we were hoping for, but I know the zoo’s dedicated and compassionate animal care team will continue to do all they can to ensure she remains comfortable and does not suffer.”

Kipenzi is one of three Masai giraffes at the zoo. The others are 6-year-old female Iggy and Olmsted, or Olmy, born to Iggy April 29, 2022.

The growth on Kipenzi’s jaw was first observed by zoo staff in late spring 2023 and was being closely monitored, but earlier this month it began interfering with her ability to eat. At that point, in consultation with experts from around the country, it was decided a biopsy was needed, even though anesthetizing giraffes is extremely risky because of their unique physical characteristics.

Reporter Marcia Greenwood covers general assignments. Send story tips to mgreenwo@rocheste.gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaGreenwood.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Seneca Park Zoo Masai giraffe Kipenzi has cancer