Mosuba, a 29-year-old gorilla at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, calmly walked up to the grill separating him and his trainers, exposing his chest for an echocardiogram administered by Don Orton, a cardiac sonographer from Alegent Creighton Clinic.
His reward for cooperating was peanuts from trainer Kristen Otterson.
Giving the tests while the gorillas are awake is desired because the readings can be off when the animals are sedated. So the zoo's 13 gorillas — three females and 10 males — have been or are being trained to get the tests while awake. They also aren't being forced to take the test and are able to walk away at any time while the test is administered.
The tests are important because heart disease is the leading killer of male gorillas in captivity. Six of the nine male gorillas in Omaha that have been tested have heart disease and are receiving medication.
Since signs often don't appear until the disease is advanced, early detection is important, just like in humans.
The results of the test are entered into the national gorilla cardiac database, part of the Great Ape Heart Project, so researchers can determine what is causing the high incidence of the disease.
It's a puzzle because captive gorillas don't have the same bad habits that contribute to human heart disease: bad diets, smoking, stressful jobs.
“We don't know what percentage of the captive gorilla population has cardiac disease because not all institutions holding gorillas are doing echocardiograms,” said Dr. Julie Napier, a senior veterinarian at the zoo.
“But 41 percent of the captive population necropsy reports submitted so have diagnosed cardiac disease as a cause of death.”
The Omaha zoo has assembled one of the most complete echocardiographic data sets of any group of gorillas in the country because it started testing back in 2007, Napier said.
Mosuba is one of the lucky gorillas. He shows no signs of having heart disease, Orton said.
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