Acupuncture has been a method of treating certain ailments since medieval times. Its origin can be traced back to China where it was first recorded in documents dating a few hundred years before the Common Era. Veterinary acupuncture which is the practice of performing acupuncture on animals is nearly as old as human acupuncture.
The Roger Williams Park Zoo which is located in Providence, Rhode Island is the first zoo in the country to carry out acupuncture procedures on a giraffe. The giraffe being used by the Zoo is named Sukari, a 2000 pound giraffe suffering from arthritis. Sukari who is aged 24 has outlived the life expectancy for a giraffe in captivity. The average life expectancy of a giraffe in the wild is about 25years, but when in captivity they rarely live that long. Sukari has been showing signs of aging in the form arthritis pain. The animal keepers noticed that her movements had reduced following the pain she felt in her joints. The animal keepers as well as veterinary professionals commenced various medical treatments to try and cure her or ease her pain. There were numerous attempts, but after numerous failures acupuncture was chosen.
According to the executive director of the Zoo, Dr. Jeremy Goodman numerous doubts on the effectiveness of acupuncture, how to administer it and how well Sukari would tolerate it were all entertained. But after much deliberation, a certified veterinary medical acupuncturist who formerly interned at the zoo was contracted.
Dr. Diva Malinowski Green began administering treatments in march. According to her, the fist treatment was met with hesitancy. Sukari flicked and swished her tail initially. While the acupuncture procedures were being carried out, the animal keepers fed her as a form of distraction. They also gave her food as a form of positive reinforcement whenever she stood still.
Veterinary acupuncture is not quite different from human acupuncture. Pain is relieved by hitting certain areas of the body with needles. This allows an increase in blood flow that washes away the mediators of inflammation such as bradykinin from the area where pain is felt. The needles used in both humans and animals are of the same size despite the fact that the animals are often times larger.
However one of the challenges encountered by Dr Green was having to adapt to a particular specie. According to Her, the points at which the needles are placed during the acupuncture procedures are almost the same across species. But this specie was built in a slightly different way, hence the adaptations that had to be made.
Sukari receives the acupuncture treatment at least twice a month. During each session lasting for 45 minutes, 14 needles are focused on points around her hip region. In the opinion of people in the Zoo, the treatments seem to be working on her.
Dr. Goodman believes that the arthritis is been kept at bay. When asked about the treatment he further went on to say that they are being realistic and can only hope for the best. They know that eventually her time will come for her to pass on. With the treatments they are optimistic that she will go on to have a great life at the zoo.