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Examination goes smoothly for western lowland gorilla

Boston, Mass.;Okpara, a western lowland gorilla, was put under anesthesia today at Franklin Park Zoo so the zoo’s veterinary staff could examine him.


The exam for Okpara, affectionately known as Okie, included a general physical, blood work and a cardiac exam. The results received from the cardiac exam will go into a national database to assist in diagnosing cardiac disease in other gorillas and helping researchers learn more about cardiac disease in people. Blood work and cardiac results are not expected for a few weeks.


“Everything went very smoothly with this examination and Okie appears to be in good health,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England Director of Veterinary Services, who added, “We have a tremendous team and this was a well-coordinated examination involving several different departments at the zoo. This level of teamwork plays an important role in ensuring that we have a safe and smooth procedure for the animals and the staff.”


Dr. Emily McCobb, a Clinical Assistant Professor specializing in Anesthesia at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, assisted during the examination.


Thanks to the regular training program at the zoo, the zookeepers were able to administer the anesthesia to Okie by hand injection which reduces the stress on the animal and the staff.


Through these established training programs, zookeepers are able to regularly listen to the gorillas’ heartbeats, perform ultrasounds, take their blood pressure, administer injections, check their eyes, ears, teeth, feet and hands, and get regular weights.


Training through positive reinforcement and operant conditioning allows the animals to voluntarily participate in activities that challenge them to think and learn new things. The animals are trained not only in husbandry behaviors that assist the zookeepers in daily care, but also in medical behaviors to help the hospital staff with veterinary care.


While the training programs are a vital component of the exceptional care that takes place at the zoo, a full physical exam like the one Okie had are needed to offer a full picture of the animal’s health. Okie’s last physical exam under anesthesia was in 2008.



Zoo New England manages Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham.  Both are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Zoo New England's mission is to inspire people to protect and sustain the natural world for future generations by creating fun and engaging experiences that integrate wildlife and conservation programs, research, and education.


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