AKRON, Ohio – The Akron Zoo’s oldest female jaguar, Naom, has been diagnosed with cancer.
The zoo announced the diagnosis on Wednesday in a video about Naom, who is 18-and-a-half years old and has been at the Akron Zoo since 2002. The median lifespan for jaguars is 18 years, according to the zoo.
Dr. Kim Cook, senior director of life sciences, said zoo keepers noticed a mass on Naom’s abdomen on Aug. 12 during a training session. Veterinary staff examined her and conducted tests to figure out what was wrong because the mass was noticeably growing each day, Cook said.
“During her exam, we took a look at everything – her lungs, x-rays, ultrasounds and blood work – but the big thing that was most noticeable is a mammary mass, or breast cancer,” Cook said.
The tumor is malignant, so it is aggressive and spreading throughout Naom’s body, Cook said.
Breast cancer, which is linked to hormones, is not common in domestic housecats because they are usually spayed or neutered, Cook said.
But big cats in zoos, like Naom, are typically not spayed or neutered because they are part of species survival plans. Naom has given birth to three litters of cubs at the Akron Zoo.
Jaguars are more prone to breast cancer than most other big cats, Cook said. There are on-going studies looking into genetic and hereditary links to the disease.
Coincidentally, Naom was part of such a study conducted by Michigan State University years ago that focused on genetic markers for jaguar mammary and ovarian cancer, before she showed any signs of a tumor, Cook said.
Naom was born on Feb. 15, 2001 at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, and moved to the Rubber City the following year. The longtime zoo resident is beloved by visitors, especially for her loud vocalizations.
“She likes to tell Akron and the world that she is here,” Akron Zoo jaguar keeper Jenny Eischen said of Naom’s roars.
Despite the disease, Naom is still roaring, eating plenty of food and playing around in the exhibit.
“Some of her age and that tumor has caught up to her, a little bit of slower movement, but she’s still very comfortable, very active on exhibit, really likes her enrichment, her food, and still is overall showing us as a lot of personality and a lot of sass every day,” Eischen said.