It is a known way to relieve pain in people, and now the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, is one of the first in the country to try acupuncture on a giraffe.
A nearly 2,000-pound patient named Sukari suffers from arthritis. The life expectancy for the species is usually in the teens, but Sukari is 24 years old and showing signs of aging.
When she started slowing down, the animal keepers and other veterinary professionals started various medical treatments before deciding to introduce acupuncture.
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“There were a lot of things we had to consider,” Dr. Jeremy Goodman, the zoo’s executive director, said. “Will the giraffe tolerate it? Would it be effective? Would the keepers be able to administer it, and how safe would it be?”
Officials brought in a certified veterinary medical acupuncturist who used to intern at the zoo to begin treatments in March.
“She had a little bit of hesitation right at the first treatment, some of the tail flicking and swishing,” said Dr. Diva Malinowski Green.
While she administers the acupuncture, the keepers feed Sukari as a way to distract her and give her positive reinforcement for standing still.
The treatment for the animal is similar to human acupuncture in that the goal is to relieve pain by hitting certain points that reduce inflammation and assist with blood flow. The needles are also the same, even though the animal patient is much bigger.
“The points are very much the same across species; however, because this species is built a little bit differently, you have to adapt the points,” Green said.
After 45 minutes and 14 needles focused on the area around her hips, Sukari is finished with the session. She receives the treatment every other week, and so far, those at the zoo believe it is working.
“We think it really is keeping her arthritis at bay,” Goodman said. “We know eventually her time will come, but until that point, and we hope it’s not for a while, she’s going to have a great life here.”