From Dr. Trish: Mara’s Mass

Last month, we had a visit from Dr. Trish. She visits periodically to work directly with our sanctuary herd at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. Along with yearly exams, she has been looking at more specific issues, including working with Mara, who has had a mass emerge in her neck. Here, Dr. Trish goes into some detail about what is going on, what we’ve done, and how we are treating it:

A couple of months ago, Mara was noted to have developed a large swelling in her right lower neck area, only really visible when she lifted her head. It was firm when touched but there were also some areas that were soft. With any large mass anywhere you are always concerned for something like cancer, but we watched the area and it got bigger but softer, and looked like it was filling with fluid and wanted to open more like an abscess. Several samples were taken with a needle and syringe of both the firm and soft area and slides made and submitted to two different laboratories for a pathologist to review and see if they could help us figure out what was going on. The samples both came back showing inflammation, but no evidence of cancer/neoplasia or surprisingly any signs of an infection were seen and no organisms (bacteria, fungal) were noted. After those somewhat inconclusive results, a culture was performed. 

At this time, we don’t know the original cause of the swelling but are guessing it’s the result of some sort of foreign body or trauma (probably from a puncture from a stick) which formed an abscess under the skin that grew. For reasons we don’t completely understand, abscesses from a variety of causes are very common in elephants and can be frustratingly slow to heal. 

Since the lump was noted, we have been cleaning the area and watching it closely every day. The presumed abscess finally opened up and a significant amount of fluid drained. After this, Mara was much more comfortable when we treated this area. Mara gets treatment daily wherever she is in the habitat – sometimes in the barn or in the annex at the back of Yard 4 or along the fence, if necessary. 

Daily treatment involves washing the area first with a hose (if possible) to get off all of the superficial dirt and mud the elephants love to coat themselves with, then with dilute betadine spray. The opening to the area is then washed with medical scrub; we then flush inside the mass with dilute betadine until no pus is obtained. We then use a flush specially formulated based on her culture results from a compounding pharmacy to put into the area and treat the infection and papaina to help with pus. We then put some ointment on the outside to prevent flies and also treat topically with antibiotics. Mara is very sensitive to oral medications and this area was so walled off in a pocket and was not spreading, so we did not use oral antibiotics, only treated the infection topically. The last thing we want to do is trigger her gastrointestinal issues.

Since rupturing open, the area has continued to decrease in size, and we are only able to flush small amounts of fluid in now, with pus rarely coming from the lesion. At first, the area around the opening remained thickened and large with presumed scar tissue, which is very common for elephants to form due to a variety of causes. But we have been using the Multiradiance laser to help with inflammation, scar tissue, and infection. We use ozonated saline and air infused into the area and around the area with great success, decreasing the mass in size. We will continue treating daily until the infection in the area has completely resolved. Mara definitely doesn’t mind, and every morning she is asking for her daily cleaning and treatment (as of course it comes with lots of extra food for her great cooperation.) 

Mara likes to give us different surprises, having medical problems we haven’t really dealt with in other elephants. Though we may not know the cause of her lump, we are very happy that she is improving as expected with treatment. 


  1. REPLY
    Terry says

    With the great care she is receiving, it is no wonder she is healing so well. Thanks for all you do and continue to do to care for the girls!

  2. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Boy oh boy, so thankful these ladies have such a phenomenal team working with them at the Sanctuary so thank you everyone for all your dedication hard work and love for these gorgeous girls they are in the best hands possible 💞🙏🦋

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