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Giraffe's Tumor Removed in Tricky Surgery

Jafari, left, wakes up from anesthesia after an operation to remove a cancerous tumor from his head Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005 at the National Zoo in Washington. AP Photo/The National Zoo, Jessie Cohen

WASHINGTON (AP) -- National zoo veterinarians treated a giraffe Wednesday for a tumor on its head, in what the chief vet said was the first such case of skin cancer.

The 13-foot-tall Jafari was back on his feet and in seeming good health in his habitat following the 45-minute procedure that involved 28 people. It is the first case of skin cancer reported among the tall, spotted creatures, chief veterinarian Suzan Murray said.

The medical team -- which included a giraffe specialist from Florida and a physician from Children's Hospital -- was only able to remove 90 percent of the tumor, so the animal's prognosis was "poor to guarded,'' Murray said.

"It's a poorer prognosis than we had hoped for,'' Murray said. "The cancer appears to have infiltrated the bone.''

Much of the medical procedure had never been attempted before, zoo officials said. Merely administering anesthesia to the animal was difficult because of its size and giraffes' tendency to regurgitate, which could choke him while unconscious.

Zoo staff had to rig a special padded ladder on which to rest Jafari's head, so they could lower it as the anesthesia took effect. Other personnel massaged Jafari's 6-foot neck to keep it from developing kinks during the surgery.

The procedure was completed on a giant tarp, which about 15 people used to lift the 1,400-pound animal back to its habitat after the operation, officials said.

Jafari is being treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics, and veterinarians are discussing a chemotherapy regimen, officials said. But Murray said that even if Jafari doesn't survive his cancer, the process of diagnosing and treating the condition will have taught veterinarians a lot about caring for giraffes.

"Even though the prognosis is poor, to some extent it's really paving the way for managing giraffes in zoos,'' she said.