Oldest African Penguin Treated for Skin Cancer

A specialized form of radiation treatment was used for a sarcoma on the face of the 40-year-old animal named Tess.

A 40-year-old penguin from Pueblo Zoo that hatched when "All in the Family" was the top-rated television show underwent a specialized treatment for skin cancer at Colorado State University (CSU).

Tess, the world's oldest known African penguin, had a sarcoma between her beak and right eye. Veterinarians at the university trained a tiny shaft of radiation at the growth for just shy of 22 minutes. The treatment, electronic brachytherapy, is able to focus the beam of radiation so precisely that tissues and organs surrounding the area aren't affected.

The procedure was so non-invasive, in fact, that Tess was out the door and on her way back to Pueblo Zoo the same day. After two weeks of isolation in which to recuperate, she was placed back in her habitat, where a reunion ensued with her 33-year-old mate Mongo. The video below has some terrific footage of Tess and her treatment.

click to play video

The zoo's primary penguin keeper, Melanie Pococke, said it was fortunate that Tess' tumor was in a place where it could be seen readily. Otherwise, it would likely have been hidden in her dense feathers. "I have always known that Tess is spectacular and extremely special. It was fun to see the excitement everyone had for her at the CSU vet hospital," she said in a statement.

Skin cancer is rare to encounter in captive penguins, according to Pueblo Zoo. The facility reports that Tess is in otherwise excellent health, though, noting that her age is a marvel, given that African penguins don't typically live beyond 20 years in the wild.

African penguins are native to the coastal waters of South Africa. They're in sharp decline due to shifting food source availability and other challenges, and experts believe they may disappear from the wild within 20 years. Luckily, the Pueblo Zoo says successful captivity programs at facilities such as theirs mean the animals could be bred for the next 100 years, and that one day reintroduction into the wild might be possible if necessary.

Hat tip The Washington Post

Tess, the world's oldest African penguin received radiation treatment for skin cancer at Colorado State University.

Penguins! Unlike the dodo, this flightless bird has figured out how to make a go of it, capturing our hearts into the bargain. With winter well underway, and a historic blizzard pummeling the east coast as we speak, what better time to chill with some pictures of penguins? Enjoy these amazing creatures!

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