A juvenile warthog that was hospitalized for more than a month after his two siblings died is back on display at Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
Zuberi, who turns 1 on Sunday, suffered the same liver ailment as his brother and sister. It was determined that his liver was poisoned by a plant toxin, but the source – whether it was in food or in a plant eaten inside the warthog enclosure – is not known, zoo officials said.
The adult warthogs never suffered illness from the toxin, said Alisha Anderson, a zoo spokeswoman. It’s believed that their livers are more mature than younger warthogs’ livers, making them less susceptible to the toxin, she said.
The toxin was in each of the warthogs’ bodies for months before the two warthogs died and in Zuberi’s body for months before he became ill, said Anderson.
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Zoo staff were on their hands and knees picking out plants from the enclosure, Anderson said. But following analysis, zoo officials were unable to match any plant with the toxin.
The first piglet death occurred on Dec. 26 when Kito passed away unexpectedly overnight. Necropsy results suggested liver failure. On March 9, female piglet Makena was observed to be acutely lethargic and taken to the zoo’s hospital, where she died that night. Makena’s necropsy also pointed to liver failure.
After the death of Kito and Makena, zoo veterinarian staff performed procedures on Zuberi and his 4-year-old father, Zuko, to look for possible abnormalities. While no infectious agents or toxins were detected in either animal, Zuberi showed changes on his blood work consistent with liver damage, zoo officials said last month when announcing his hospitalization.
We do not know the exact cause of liver failure. The symptoms shown by all three piglets are consistent with that of a pyrrolizidine alkaloid toxin.
Shannon Nodolf, chief veterinary officer, Fresno Chaffee Zoo
Zuberi was removed from his exhibit on March 31 after showing signs of the same illness. His recovery is attributed to swift action and intensive around-the-clock care.
“We aren’t sure of the long-term prognosis, but since last week, Zuberi appears to be in great health and seems happy to be back with his family,” said Lyn Myers, general curator. “This recovery is 100 percent a result of the amazing care provided by our veterinary team.”
Throughout the illness of the three piglets, veterinarian staff have been in contact with warthog experts across the country.
“We do not know the exact cause of liver failure,” said Shannon Nodolf, chief veterinary officer at Fresno Chaffee Zoo. “The symptoms shown by all three piglets are consistent with that of a pyrrolizidine alkaloid toxin.”
She said the toxin can be ingested months before any symptoms appear.
“It attacks the liver and then limits the liver’s ability to repair itself as it normally would,” Nodolf said. “At some point, the liver is no longer able to maintain its normal functions and that’s when the symptoms start to become visible.”
In Zuberi’s case, zoo veterinary staff observed the other piglets’ rapid health decline and spotted a similar pattern that allowed them to intervene and get him to the hospital.