- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Collaboration between Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and the University of Nebraska Medical Center is helping monitor and learn more about the heart health of captive gorillas.

Veterinarians with the zoo and cardiology specialists at UNMC and its hospital are working together to run heart tests on the zoo’s gorillas, The Omaha World-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1l3eEOj ) Saturday. The gorillas are trained to undergo the tests while awake, to get the most accurate results.

That training was on display Friday at the zoo, when 30-year-old gorilla Mosuba followed commands to put his hands against wire mesh separating him from cardiac ultrasonographer Christine DuPree. DuPree then used a special probe to conduct a heart sonogram on the ape.

Mosuba’s results will be entered into a national gorilla cardiac database called the Great Ape Heart Project, as are the results of the medical center’s tests taken every month of the Omaha zoo’s gorillas.

Gorillas can live to be 40 or 50 years old, but heart disease is the leading cause of death among captive adult male gorillas and affects about 70 percent of the captive gorilla population. Zoo researchers and veterinarians across the country are trying to figure out why.

Diet and lack of exercise are close to being ruled out, said Dr. Julie Napier, senior vet at the Omaha zoo. She said it appears more likely that the cause is genetic. Other possible causes being studied include an unidentified virus, social groupings and high blood pressure.

Napier said the training that allowed for Mosuba to present his chest for the echocardiogram was important, because anesthesia affects the tests. Conducting the procedure while the animal is awake also expands the amount of data researchers can collect and reduces the danger anesthesia poses for the animal.

Mosuba’s tests Friday revealed he has a healthy heart. But his brother, Tubby, who is now at the Philadelphia Zoo, does have heart disease, as do four other gorillas at the Omaha zoo.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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