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Gorilla to undergo procedure at Franklin Park Zoo

UPDATE: May 24

Thank you to everyone who has been keeping western lowland gorilla Gigi and her care team in their thoughts. Yesterday, Gigi underwent a ureteral stent procedure to hopefully relieve what appeared to be a partial obstruction of urine flow. The procedure went smoothly, and Gigi’s care team will continue to closely monitor her in the coming days.

At 46 years old, Gigi is the oldest member of the gorilla troop at Franklin Park Zoo and among the oldest gorillas living within the North American population managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She has been a big part of the zoo family for nearly 40 years, and we are making decisions with her best interests in mind. Even if the ureteral stent procedure proves successful, Gigi will continue to have significant underlying health issues, which we will continue to closely monitor and treat.

Throughout Gigi’s ongoing health issues, our veterinary team has consulted with a number of outside specialists who have shared their expertise and guidance. We would like to thank Massachusetts General Hospital’s Dr. Adam Feldman, urologic oncologist, and Dr. Whitfield Growdon, gynecologic oncologist, who assisted in yesterday’s procedure. We would also like to thank Timothy Hennessey from Karl Storz Endoskope, who generously provided the equipment needed to do the procedure.

Gorilla Gigi

On Thursday, Gigi, a western lowland gorilla, will be put under anesthesia at Franklin Park Zoo so the zoo’s veterinary staff can perform a ureteral stent procedure.

Earlier this month, Gigi underwent a comprehensive exam including a CT scan, liver biopsy, and ultrasound in the hopes of determining the cause of ongoing recent health issues. The CT scan revealed that Gigi has liver and kidney disease, as well as tumors in her liver and uterus. Both of her kidneys show irreversible chronic degenerative change. It is believed that her kidneys are likely the main source of symptoms, and it is hoped that the ureteral stent procedure will relieve what appears to be a partial obstruction of urine flow.

The BodyTom® CT scanner, generously made available by NeuroLogica, was an invaluable diagnostic tool in assisting Zoo New England’s Animal Health team in identifying the underlying causes of Gigi’s recent health issues. Throughout Gigi’s ongoing health issues, the veterinary staff has consulted with a number of outside specialists who have shared their expertise and guidance.

At 46 years old, Gigi is the oldest member of the gorilla troop at Franklin Park Zoo and among the oldest gorillas living within the North American population managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Gigi, who has been part of the Zoo New England family since 1980, has been off-exhibit for the past few months due to ongoing health issues that have included a urinary tract infection and decreases in energy, mobility and appetite.

Since Gigi’s last procedure, she has been treated with several medications to address potential discomfort and other factors that may make her feel ill, which has yielded a positive response. While she has good days and bad days, her appetite and activity is recently improved.

“We are carefully weighing all decisions regarding Gigi’s care and treatment, and are hopeful that the ureteral stent procedure will alleviate some of her symptoms. Even if the procedure is successful, Gigi will continue to have significant underlying health issues, which we will continue to closely monitor and treat,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England Vice President of Animal Health and Conservation.

“The veterinary and animal care teams take extraordinary care of our geriatric animals to ensure that they enjoy a healthy and comfortable life as they age. While we know Gigi will not be with us forever, we are committed to doing everything we can to make sure she has good quality of life,” said John Linehan, Zoo New England President and CEO. “She has been a big part of the zoo family for nearly 40 years, and we are making decisions with her best interests in mind.”

Whenever anesthesia is administered there is always a risk to the animal and people involved in the procedure. The staff never enters 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.

The procedure is expected to last several hours.

During her time off exhibit, her dedicated care staff is monitoring Gigi’s behavior, administering medications and working on improving her food consumption, while doting on her constantly with some of her favorite enrichment. Gigi’s favorite enrichment items include blankets, which she is often spotted carrying and making “nests” with, and food treats including banana peels, grapes, celery, oatmeal, escarole and yogurt – which her care staff have been using to help administer her medication.

Zoo New England is a longtime supporter of field conservation work on behalf of gorillas, including the Ape TAG Conservation Initiative, a collective effort by zoos to help conserve wild populations of endangered apes in their natural habitats. Habitat loss is among the major threats faced by gorillas. Recycling cell phones and other electronics reduces the need for additional coltan, a component of cell phones that is mined in central African forests right in the gorillas’ habitat. This, in turn, reduces the destruction of gorillas’ homes and reduces hunting pressures. Guests to Franklin Park Zoo can drop off their old cell phones, which are recycled through the Eco-Cell program.