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Gorilla to undergo a general physical examination, including a cardiac work-up, at Franklin Park Zoo

Gorilla Littlejoe2 BoxLittle Joe, a western lowland gorilla, will be put under anesthesia tomorrow at Franklin Park  Zoo so the zoo’s veterinary staff can examine him.

This is a routine physical exam for Little Joe. The examination will include a general physical examination, blood work and a cardiac exam. The results we receive from the cardiac exam will go into a national database to assist in diagnosing cardiac disease in other gorillas.

“Little Joe is 24 years old and he will be receiving a full cardiac work-up as is normal for gorillas his age. Cardiac disease is the biggest health issue affecting gorillas in captivity, which is one reason why this type of proactive, routine care is so important,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England Director of Animal Health and Conservation Medicine.

Through the well-established training programs, zookeepers and veterinarians are able to regularly listen to the gorillas’ heartbeats, perform cardiac ultrasounds, administer injections and check their eyes, ears, teeth, feet and hands. As a result of the regular awake cardio ultrasounds, indications are that Little Joe appears to be developing mild heart disease. During his exam tomorrow, the Zoo New England veterinary staff with the assistance of outside specialists will be able to follow up on these findings more specifically.

While Little Joe’s examination is considered routine preventative care, whenever anesthesia is administered there is always a risk to the animals and people involved in the procedure.

“Gorillas are wild animals and as such, pre-anesthetic evaluations as extensive as those that would routinely be done on people and domestic animals, are not possible,” said Baitchman. “Any animal immobilization involving general anesthesia always carries some risk. We never enter into these procedures lightly and every possible effort is made to keep the animal, as well as the people involved in the procedure, safe and healthy.”

Zoo New England staff will be assisted by Dr. Nancy Laste, Director, Cardiology at Angell Animal Medical Center; Dr. Emily McCobb, Clinical Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University; Dr. Rebecca Reader, anesthesiology resident at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University; Dr. Justina Wu, co-director, Noninvasive Cardiac Laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Dr. Brian Bergmark, Cardiovascular Division, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The exam is expected to last at least two hours.