EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR) is partnering with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to raise awareness after one of its big cats passed away from breast cancer.

Mani, a liger born from a male lion bred with a female tiger, was rescued in 2021 from the facility featured in Netflix’s “Tiger King” series. According to a press release from the refuge, mammary cancer accounts for nearly one-third of all diagnosed feline tumors in domestic cats, and 90% are a very aggressive form known as mammary carcinoma or adenocarcinoma.

Mani died on September 30, on the eve of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Turpentine Creek reports that she was in reasonably good health at the time of her rescue, and she adjusted well to her new life there.

TCWR was one of the go-to sanctuaries called upon by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to assist in the seizure of 68 big cats from the Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma in May of 2021. The covert operation was coordinated by the DOJ, BCSA, and the President of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Tanya Smith, in a two-part execution that included SWAT teams and armored
vehicles.

As a Tiger King Park survivor, Mani was bred to other lions and tigers to produce hybrid cubs for cub petting and/or as future breeding stock. In June of this year, TCWR staff immobilized Mani and performed her first hands-on full wellness examination.

During the full wellness exam, the cats are weighed, x-rays are taken, teeth cleaned, claws trimmed, and bloodwork is drawn and tested. During Mani’s exam, multiple large tumors were discovered in her left mammary chain.

A biopsy was performed, revealing that the cancer was growing so fast that the center of the tumor was dying and had leaked what is called necrotic fluid. A histopathology exam confirmed that Mani was dealing with mammary carcinoma.

After consulting with peer veterinary oncologists, TCWR staff veterinarian Dr. Kellyn Sweeley, DVM, determined that the aggressive step of performing surgery to remove Mani’s entire left mammary chain with all associated glands was unlikely to increase her survival time. Such an extensive surgery could decrease her remaining quality of life due to the size of the resultant incision and increased risk of infection or dehiscence (incision reopening), according to TCWR.

As the tumors were so large and necrotic in the center, with an eventual probability of bursting and creating large open wounds, it was determined Mani would benefit from having them removed. In July, Mani underwent lumpectomy surgery to remove the tumors and their surrounding mammary gland tissue.

While the lumpectomy would not increase Mani’s survival time, it would improve her quality of life by minimizing the pain and the secondary effects that ulcerated tumors can cause. The surgery was also “critically important” because the cancer was located near Mani’s lymph nodes, TCWR said.

Once in the lymphatic system, her survival rate would drastically decrease. Unfortunately, it was discovered on surgical removal that cancer had already spread to the surrounding lymph nodes.

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge follows a modern animal welfare concept called the Five Domains Model. This is a “science-based structure for assessing animal welfare, recognizing that animals can experience negative and positive feelings.”

The Five Domains are Nutrition, Environment, Health, Behavior, and Mental. The model allows the team to minimize negative experiences and increase positive experiences to ensure the highest welfare for the remainder of the animals’ life.

Over the past two months, Mani slowly increased her water intake as her appetite decreased.

To help tell Mani’s story, Turpentine Creek created Mani Breast Cancer Awareness Pins for October with plans to share her story and help raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Mani was humanely euthanized on the morning of September 30, and her pins arrived at the Refuge later that same afternoon. For every Mani Breast Cancer Awareness Pin sold, $1 of the sale will go back to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

If you’d like to help Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, please visit the online store at www.turpentinecreek.org to purchase one of Mani’s pins or buy one in person by visiting the Refuge.