California Zoo Veterinarians Save Gorillas Using Medical Methods – New York Times International Weekly – International

While the patient lay under anesthesia on the table, the cardiologist made an incision in his chest. He removed a small implanted heart monitor with dead batteries and inserted a new one.

The patient was diagnosed with heart disease; The monitor will provide continuous data on heart rate and rhythm, alerting doctors to abnormalities. Four stitches were required to close the incision. In a few hours, the patient, a gorilla named Winston, will be reunited with his family at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California.

“Winston, 51, is a very old male gorilla,” said Matt Kinney, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, who supervised the medical staff during the procedure. Thanks to improved health care, new technology and better nutrition, “we’re seeing animals living longer and also being healthier longer,” he said.

Thanks to “human-directed care”, gorillas can now live two decades longer than the 30 to 40 years common in the wild. However, as with their human relatives, aging also leads to chronic diseases. Gorillas are prone to cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death for them and us. So now the questions for caregivers resemble those faced by doctors and older patients: How much treatment is too much?

To keep gorillas healthy, zoo veterinarians not only turn to technologies and drugs developed for humans, but also consult with medical specialists such as cardiologists, radiologists, obstetricians and dentists.

Winston takes four heart medications that people also take, although in different doses. (Weight 205 kilograms). The heart monitor he created is also implanted in people. He received his annual flu shot this fall and is undergoing physical therapy for his arthritis.

Some of Winston’s longtime caregivers have retired. But Winston is still at work, leading his troop of five gorillas and keeping the peace.

“He’s such a gentle silverback and an incredibly tolerant father,” said Jim Haigwood, curator of the San Diego Zoo’s safari park. “He will still let his youngest daughter take food out of her mouth.”

The zoo twice introduced females with children into the herd, which in the wild could lead to infanticide. “He raised these men as if they were his own children,” Haigwood said.

Winston, a western lowland gorilla native to central Africa, arrived at the San Diego Zoo in 1984. The test showed only “a couple of minor changes, nothing alarming,” he said.

Then, in 2021, the entire herd became infected with the coronavirus. “Winston was hit the hardest,” Kinney said. After receiving monoclonal antibodies, Winston recovered.

While Winston was being treated, veterinarians and doctors discovered health problems. His heart began to beat less efficiently; this led to daily medication, hidden in his food and an implanted monitor. He also takes ibuprofen and acetaminophen for arthritis. Of even greater concern was a CT scan and biopsy that showed a cancerous tumor had damaged Winston’s right kidney.

After looking at Winston’s life expectancy and determining that the tumor was not growing, “we felt comfortable continuing to monitor him,” Kinney said.

“We want to make sure Winston lives a good life and feels fulfilled,” he said. “We have a good understanding of what makes Winston Winston.”


BBC-NEWS-SRC:, IMPORT DATE: 2024-01-02 19:15:05

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