Gregory J. Fleming, DVM; Ramiro Isaza, DVM, MS, DACZM
Department of Clinical Sciences, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA
A 45-year-old female Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) was examined for a 5-year history of decreased trunk use. When compared to other elephants in the herd, there was a significant decrease in trunk diameter and some atrophy of the facial muscles associated with the trunk. Other physical exam findings, including a complete blood count and serum chemistry panel, were unremarkable. Thermographic images of the trunk were obtained using the Inframetrics hand-held, high resolution (65,000 pixels) thermography camera PM280 (Inframetrics PM 280 Thermography Camera, FLIR Systems, N. Billerica, MA 01862-2598). These images were obtained to ascertain if there was a difference between this elephant’s thermal signature and that of other elephants with clinically normal trunks.
The trunk of the affected animal was cooler, both on the cranial and caudal surfaces, than contemporary herd mates. Thermal changes in the trunk may be due to a combination of reasons, including muscle atrophy or neurologic problems due to trauma, toxins, mineral deficiencies, or hereditary defects.1-10
Trunk paralysis has been reported in both Asian (Elephas maximus) and African (Loxodonta africana) elephants.9,10 Anecdotal cases of chronic muscle wasting of the trunk and inability to extend the trunk have been reported in captive Asian elephants.9 This syndrome appears to differ from African elephant trunk paralysis in that the paralysis happens slowly over a number of years and does not appear progressive. Multiple theories for the syndrome have been proposed, such as nerve damage attributed to trauma, parasitic migration, bacterial infection, and neoplasia involving motor nerves.9 To date, no published reports have described histologic findings.
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