Gorilla checkup provides international insight
Western Suburbs, IL
How many veterinarians does it take to give a physical to a gorilla?
Not much of a punch line, agreed. But then again, the good health of Binti Jua and her son, Bakari, two of Brookield Zoo’s seven gorillas, is no laughing matter.
Sedated in their cages, the two were transported unconscious from their Tropic World home to the zoo’s on-campus Medical Center last week, where medical teams waited. The gorillas were each brought into their own examination/operating room and from there, things happened fast.
Blood was drawn for numerous different tests. Eyes were examined and teeth were checked and cleaned. Radiographs were taken of the chest and abdomen and a veterinary cardiologist performed a cardiac ultrasound of the 23-year-old mother and her 6-year-old son. Through it all, the 250-pound Binti Jua and 118-pound Bakari slept peacefully during the near two-hour procedure.
The physicals are given every two to three years, said Tom Meehan, Brookfield Zoo’s vice president of veterinary services.
“One of the things we hope to develop for some of the procedures is knowing exactly what animals are prone to and at what ages, so we can say for a male or female, at this stage of life, we might want to do it every two years, but perhaps at five or 10 years we might not need to look at them as often,” Meehan said.
As part of the procedure, the staff, led by associate curator of primates Craig Demitros, test for tuberculosis because of a gorilla’s susceptibility of the disease.
The benefits of the examinations extend beyond determining the health of the animals. Results are entered into the International Species Information System database, which allows animal caretakers to compare the data and provide the means to more closely monitor their health.
The idea of sedating a gorilla without shooting a tranquilizer dart begs the question: How?
Meehan said the gorillas go through extensive training to walk up to their caged enclosure and simply press their arm against the cage to receive the shot. They are then rewarded with a treat.
Assisting in the exams were members of Animal Emergency Treatment Center (AETC) of Chicago and Grayslake, which specializes in animal critical care and emergency medicine. Veterinary cardiologist Justin Allen handled the cardiovascular examination of the pair.
AETC veterinarian Anthony Coronado said specialty medicine is as much a part of animal care as it is in health care for humans.
“Whatever is available to humans is available in veterinary medicine,” Coronado said. “In the past, if you wanted to see a specialist, you had to go to the university. Nowadays, specialty medicine has become way more prevalent, so the average client can get treatment. It doesn’t cost what it used to.”
What also has changed, he added, is a shift in the thought process of the human and animal bond.
“Is it a piece of property or is it a family member? More and more, pets are being viewed as family members,” Coronado said. “As a consequence, there is a shift in the minds of people and the public as to what is acceptable to do for these pets, medicine-wise or to spend on them.”
The gorilla has been villainized over the years as a savage monster capable of great violence.
Binti Jua may have changed all that when she made international headlines in 1996. After a 3-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure, Binti Jua gently scooped him up and cradled him in her arms until zoo staff recovered the child.