Pass the Anti-HISS-tamine: Sumatran Tiger Eko Being Treated for Allergies

After Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden caretakers and veterinary staff noticed Sumatran tiger, Eko, rubbing and scratching his face, they reached out to a local veterinary dermatologist who discovered Eko was experiencing an allergic reaction.

Eko initially had a few scratches on his face that would come and go. It was thought these were minor wounds resulting from play with his brothers, Ramah and Gusti, until he was observed rubbing on his face, a non-typical behavior. After that discovery, he was treated with allergy medication as the symptoms would come and go, but as the treatment became more common, the Zoo’s veterinary team determined allergy testing was necessary.

Dr. Alicia Webb Milum performs Eko's allergy test

The testing was performed by Dr. Alicia Webb Milum DVM DACVD, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist at Redbud Animal Dermatology in Oklahoma City. The test is similar to human allergy testing where small injections are placed under the skin and observed for reaction. Eko’s test revealed that he was responding to typical Oklahoma allergens like red cedar, cocklebur, aspergillus and environmental molds. These common organisms often cause allergies in humans and pets. While they don’t see many allergy problems in tigers, similar reactions have been reported in a leopard and a few other carnivores.

Eko is doing well on oral antihistamine medication now and will soon start allergy injections to provide better control and comfort with his condition. Dr. Webb Milum is working to provide specific immunotherapy (allergy injections) against the particular allergens causing his reactions. He is also being trained to allow the injections so that he doesn’t need to be anesthetized again to receive treatment. If the injections prove effective, Eko will be weaned off the antihistamine.

Eko's allergy test being performed

Eko, Ramah and Gusti were born at the OKC Zoo on July 9, 2017, to mom Lola. The birth of these three cubs marked the second litter of Sumatran tigers born at the Zoo, coincidentally on the exact same day in 2011, which included Lola. Sumatran tigers are critically endangered with less than 500 estimated to be living in the wild in the forests of Indonesia. Their survival is seriously threatened by habitat loss driven primarily by the cultivation of palm oil plantations and by illegal hunting.

In 2016, the Zoo began a partnership with Rainforest Trust, a conservation organization whose mission is to work with local partners to purchase and protect threatened tropical forests. Using funds donated by OKC Zoo guests through the Zoo’s grassroots program, Round Up for Conservation, Rainforest Trust purchased 13,000 acres of rainforest in central Sumatra, an area five times the size of Oklahoma City’s Lake Hefner. 

-Dr. Gretchen Cole, associate veterinarian

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