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Despite aggressive cancer treatments, Puzzle, a 9-year-old African painted dog, was humanely euthanized Sunday at the ABQ BioPark, zoo officials announced this week.

Zoo staff discovered the cancer in May after a wellness check found facial swelling and noticed changes in the animal’s eating habits.

Diagnosed with advanced systemic cancer, Puzzle initially appeared to respond to chemotherapy and surgery to remove a tumor in his mouth, but the cancer subsequently spread and was no longer treatable.

The ABQ BioPark participates in important research performed by the Exotic Species Cancer Research Alliance, which is helping to identify common causes of cancer across species and improve veterinary cancer therapies, said BioPark Associate Director Bob Lee.

Puzzle was born at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, on October 31, 2013, and came to the ABQ BioPark in March 2020, where he lived with female African painted dog Cheza, the only other member of the species at the zoo.

Lee said that zoo staff will monitor Cheza’s wellbeing and any decisions regarding her continued residence at the BioPark Zoo will be made in consultation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan.

The African painted dog is a wild carnivorous canine native to sub-Saharan Africa, where it lives in grasslands, savannas and open ranges, Lee said. Classified as extremely endangered, there are thought to be fewer than 7,000 still living in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their numbers are being decimated by human habitat encroachment and fragmentation, as well as by such illnesses as cancer, rabies and distemper, Lee said.

According to the African Wildlife Foundation website, the animals are named for their patchy coat, which can be in shades of black, brown, red, white, yellow and gold. Other features include large bat-like ears, a black muzzle and a bushy white-tipped tail.

African painted dogs live in tight-knit packs with as few as seven members and as many as 40. They are easy-going and non-aggressive within the pack. The animals do not bark or howl, communicating instead using high-pitched squeaks and vocalizing while hunting with a series of sneeze-like sounds, according to the foundation website.