Canva | Kara Heynis

Lion With Skin Cancer Smuggled Into Hospital For Radiation Treatment

Amy Pilkington 9 May 2019

We usually think about cancer as a human thing, but it's really just a life thing. Cancer can occur in any living species and there's even evidence of it in dinosaurs.

If you have a pet or raise farm animals, it's possible that you've encountered it through them, but domesticated animals have the benefit of veterinary care.

In the wild, there's no health care.

Giphy | CBC

Scientists aren't sure how common certain cancers are among wild animals, since it's hard to study and track.

But I imagine that skin cancer is probably common among animals living in hot, sunny climates.

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Skin cancer is actually fairly common in cats.

Unsplash | Ryan McGuire

If they spend most of their time outdoors and in the sun, then they can develop it the same way we humans can if we're lazy about sunscreen. Their fur protects them, but in spots without it, such as the nose or backs of the ears, carcinomas can form.

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Big cats can't just be taken to any old vet, though.

Giphy | Planckendael

Even if they live in a sanctuary and receive regular care, cancer treatment is a whole other complication. Since many sanctuaries depend on donations and volunteers, it's not like they have the funds to do that sort of thing in-house.

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Some countries do have facilities for treating larger animals, but unfortunately, that's not the case in South Africa.


So when a lion named Chaos living in the Lory Park Animal And Owl Sanctuary developed cancerous lesions on his nose, his keeper Kara Heynis was determined to figure something out.

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Chaos had come to the sanctuary when he was only a few days old and Heynis sees him as family.

News 24

He's 16 years old and could live into his mid-20s if treatments are successful.

Luckily, they were able to get into the Muelmed Mediclinic, in northern South Africa, which was only 18 miles away and willing to help.

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But offering to help and actually figuring out the logistics are two separate things.


Muelmed Mediclinic is a registered zoological facility, so it was easy to get the right permits, but how do you get a 570lb lion into a hospital safely, without upsetting the human patients?

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Through the backdoor, with staff keeping people away from the corridors Chaos would be travelling through.

News 24

He was sedated and strapped to a gurney, with five radiotherapists and an oncologist on hand to help out for the procedure, which lasted only five minutes.

A cloth and bandages protected Chaos' eyes and healthy sections of nose from the radiation.

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He's not out of the woods yet. He'll need a few more rounds of the treatment before the cancer is gone.


Meanwhile, he's being kept comfortable and in the shade at his home in the sanctuary.

Heynis says the trouble and cost of radiation treatments are totally worth it. "He is like our child so we will do anything we need for him," she said.

h/t: News 24, Daily Mail

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