PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Officials at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium say a young bull elephant is being treated for a non-contagious autoimmune disease that is preventing skin lesions from healing.

Zoo officials announced the illness in a news release Thursday and planned a news conference to provide additional information on Umasai.

Dr. Ginger Takle, the zoo’s director of animal health, says the elephant developed skin lesions that healed slowly and weren’t responding to antibiotics. But more tests were done, and the auto immune disease was confirmed, after keepers found the elephant lying down and unable to get up by himself in recent weeks.

“The young elephant initially had skin lesions which healed very slowly and didn’t respond to antibiotics. We knew something was seriously wrong when we found Umasai lying down in his room several times unable to get back up on his own,” says Willie Theison, elephant curator said in a statement. “We were baffled as to what was causing his unusual behavior because elephants don’t lie down for extended periods of time without trying to get back up.”

Tests for liver and kidney disease are negative. The autoimmune disease prevents an animal’s immune system from combatting diseases and infections, and causes the immune system to instead attacks normal, healthy cells.

“We were glad when those tests all came back negative,” Dr. Takle said in a statement. “Treating animals is a unique situation. You cannot ask them to tell you what is wrong or what they are feeling. You have to look at their clinical signs and changes in behavior and appetite.”

According to the statement from the zoo, elephant skin heals much slower than human skin. That combined with the thickness of the elephant’s skin and medication, will mean an extended recovery time.

“A superficial skin wound on a person can heal in seven days, however in an elephant this same process can take six months to a year,” the statement said.

Umasi has been at the zoo since 2011.


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