SCVSEC Heart Team Goes to the Zoo

They didn’t go to feed the giraffes. They didn’t go to see the grizzlies. SCVSEC cardiologist, Dr. Dan Hall, andhead cardiology technician,Monica Waters,were on a mission: toperform an ultrasound and physical health check on Patrick, a 26-year-old silverback western lowland gorilla. The problem was Patrick’s unexpected weight gain. It raised the prospect of heart disease.

While gorillas are the largest of all apes, western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are the smallest of the three gorilla subspecies. The great ape family includes the chimpanzee, bonobos, and the orangutan. Male gorillas stand about 5.5 feet tall and weigh around 300 to 450 pounds. Females weigh only half as much as males.

Reasons for alarm attended Patrick’s weight gain. “Heart disease is common in male gorillas, so we asked for the ultrasound and more in-depth assessment to rule out any medical conditions before altering Patrick’s diet,” said Dr. Martha Weber, senior veterinarian at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.

Dr. Hall and Waters performed a remote cardiac ultrasound and health check on Patrick. Using field technologies in Patrick’s zoo habitat they were able to monitor his heart. Working with members of Riverbanks’ veterinary team, their examination eliminated heart disease as the cause of the weight gain. “The exam form we submitted to Dr. Weber stated that Patrick was about 65 lbs overweight, despite diet restrictions,” said Dr. Hall. Patrick’s ideal weight is 189 kilograms so he was overweight by a little over 29 kilograms.

“We are now adjusting his regime for optimal nutrition,” said Dr. Weber, who learned that Patrick,overall,is in good health.In the wild, gorillas feed on ground plants, leaves, bark, stems, roots, vines and bamboo. Most water comes from eating greens and fruit.

A partnership between Riverbanks Zoo & Garden and South Carolina Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Caremade themission possible. In addition to enhancing zoo animal’s well being, missions such as this one offer a rare look into the specialized healthcare of exotic animals.

Weber adds that partnerships with veterinary and medical specialists are a critical part of the veterinary program at Riverbanks. “These relationships bring with them cutting-edge technologies and knowledge that help ensure our animals live longer, healthier lives.”

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