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(Reuters Life!) – Acupuncture for a limping elephant? Herbal tea for a constipated orangutan? The Singapore Zoo has tried it all, and it works.

Around 200 animals, including giraffes, elephants, horses, pythons and sea lions, have successfully been treated with acupuncture and traditional herb-based Chinese medicine in the past decade, although Western medicine remains the first line of treatment in the zoo.

“The Western medicine did not always work, so we had to find other solutions,” Oh Soon Hock, a senior veterinarian at the zoo told Reuters on Friday.

Earlier this week the zoo received a S$30,000 ($19,700) grant for further research into traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for animals from a Singapore-based firm that produces


b2ap3_thumbnail_elephant-acupuncture-Oh — who was trained in Western veterinarian medicine but also studied Chinese medicine — said this sort of healing is typically used after Western medicine fails to produce results.

He said an orangutan who had received modern medication for constipation for more than a year recovered after drinking an ancient Chinese brew of herbs, ground and dissolved in its honey drink, for just one week.

The zoo has also used acupuncture to reduce the swelling around the fractured leg of a sedated cheetah.

Treating an elephant with acupuncture requires some industrial-size needles to pierce its 2.5 centimeter (one inch) thick hide and sometimes through 15 centimeters of muscles.

The custom-made stainless steel needles are 15 to 20 cm long and 0.6 mm (0.024 inch) thick, Oh said.

“We use stainless steel needles because they bend but won’t break,” Oh said, adding that the needles need to pierce through the hide and muscles to get close to the bones for the treatment to be most effective.

Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese treatment, stimulates blood circulation by sticking needles at specific points of the body through which the body’s energy flows.

According to Chinese medicine, the blood carries “qi”, or body energy, that flows along pathways through the body. Acupuncture stimulates the blood by stimulating the “qi”.