A surgical team of two neurosurgeons and a neonatologist from Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center of Seattle joined Woodland Park Zoo’s Animal Health staff yesterday to perform surgery on a two-and-a-half-month-old, female western lowland gorilla. The specialized medical team was mobilized to remove a growth overlying the spine of the 9-pound gorilla.
The surgery was performed at the zoo’s state-of-the-art veterinary hospital using a state-of-the-art neuro spinal instrument set donated by New Jersey-based Integra LifeSciences Corporation (NASDAQ: IART). The surgery followed a consultation and MRI diagnostics, donated last month by Dr. Rob Liddell of Radiology Consultants of Washington. The mass and MRI diagnostics closely resemble a congenital condition found in human infants.
“ This gorilla operation was an amazing ‘Star Trek’-type of experience for the team from Children’s Hospital and University of Washington,” said Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, neurosurgeon from Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center. “Drs. Craig Jackson, Sam Browd, and I were proud to help with an endangered species such as the baby gorilla suffering from a congenital spinal abnormality. The operation was a great success from our perspective, and we are hoping for a full recovery.”
“ Surgery confirmed that the mass extended down to the spine but did not invade the spinal column,” explained the zoo’s Interim Director of Animal Health Dr. Kelly Helmick. The cause of the mass is pending results of biopsy diagnostics.
Following the one-hour procedure and recovery from anesthesia, the baby gorilla was returned to her mother at the gorilla exhibit. Staff will keep her under close observation and continue antibiotic treatment. “The successful outcome of the surgery is due, in large part, to our dedicated gorilla keepers, who successfully trained the mother to help us give her infant liquid antibiotics,” explained Helmick. “This important pre-surgical care helped stem the infection and inflammation and decrease the surgical time.”
The surgery, MRI diagnostics, and consultation by an obstetrician were all donated to the zoo. “We are extremely grateful to the entire medical team for volunteering their time and specialized skills for our young conservation ambassador,” added Helmick.
The field of zoo and wildlife medicine is a rapidly evolving science. Detecting medical concerns and applying cutting-edge treatment, when possible, is a strategy for ensuring quality health care for the zoo’s collection of more than a thousand animals. In addition to our excellent team here of full-time veterinarians, veterinary technicians and hospital keepers, “we collaborate with a network of more than 70 ‘human’ medical doctors, consulting veterinarians, and health care professionals who donate their time and expertise to help us provide quality care for our animals,” explained Helmick. “As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), we are committed to providing the best possible veterinary care to each and every animal at the zoo.”
The zoo currently houses 12 gorillas in two separate groups in the award-winning Tropical Rain Forest. The infant gorilla, which remains unnamed, was born October 20 at Woodland Park Zoo. She represents the twelfth successful gorilla birth for the zoo and the third offspring between 38-year-old Amanda and the father, 29-year-old Vip. According to Martin Ramirez, a curator at Woodland Park, the mother continues to show excellent maternal care. “Amanda is a very attentive mother. She and her infant continue to bond appropriately.” The zoo plans on inviting the community later this spring to help name the baby gorilla.
The western lowland gorilla lives in six countries across west equatorial Africa: southeast Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo and Equatorial Guinea. All gorillas are endangered. The estimated population of wild western lowland gorillas is about 110,000. The primary reason gorillas are endangered is because of habitat destruction caused by logging and agricultural expansion. The bushmeat trade, facilitated by logging, has become an immediate threat to the western lowland gorilla population, particularly in Cameroon. Additionally, infection from the Ebola virus has recently become a great threat, killing many gorillas.
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