Cancer research on deceased tiger from Amarillo Zoo helping species

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Sabrina, a beloved Bengal tiger at the Amarillo Zoo, was humanely euthanized on Jan. 8. 

Zoo officials said the 16-year-old tiger, who would have turned 17 on Jan. 31, battled serious health issues.

“She came to us with already a degenerative eye disease called glaucoma … and so as she got older, the decision was made to go ahead and remove that eye because it was causing her pain through her optic nerve,” said Berkeley Hilliard, Zoo Curator for the Amarillo Zoo. 

Then, masses started to form on her body. Tests showed it was a carcinoma.

“Because of the mutations of the cells within this carcinoma tumors, they were actually not able to tell what kind of carcinoma it was because all the tests for the types of cells were coming back negative. That’s just because of how mutant those cells were,” said Hilliard.

Zoo officials said once they saw nothing could be done to help her condition, the call was made to euthanize her.

“It’s always a question with every animal to go through. You want to visualize their quality of life, and at some point, if you do see them suffer, you never want to see them suffer. So we made the decision once we saw that it was not really curable,” Hilliard said.

However, Sabrina’s legacy is helping her species. Tissue samples from Sabrina are being used for scientific research into the cancers she battled

Cancer cells from Sabrina are being studied at laboratories across the nation, including at Texas A&M University and Michigan State University.

“I don’t believe we have had this many labs interested in an animal,” said Hilliard. “A primary goal is always to help the survival of a species. The more information that research such as this can provide will help save and protect a species.”

The Amarillo Zoo elaborated more on the testing, saying:

Cancer cells from Sabrina have been tested through a process called immunohistochemistry (IHC) – a tumor identification test. It is believed Sabrina’s cancer was a type of carcinoma that results in a loss of control of cellular life within the tissues, which causes rapid and abnormal growth. The tests run on Sabrina will allow research facilities to have data for comparison into cancer research for tigers.

“The research being done with Sabrina allows for more knowledge of her species and how we can help the species thrive,” Hilliard said. “Sabrina was a joy to have at our zoo for years. It is amazing to know that she is helping other tigers live a long and healthier life in the future.”

Sabrina’s sister, Savannah, who is also 16 going on 17, remains at the zoo. Hilliard said they are assessing her behavior before looking at getting another tiger.

“It’s definitely not a process that you can do overnight. It is going to take a couple of weeks, maybe even months to go ahead and make that decision, but we are at least going along with possibly getting her another companion,” said Hilliard. “we always want to make sure that that reaction is positive for their health well being and just the interaction and the overall introduction of a new animal takes months.”

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