- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2006


One of two adult males in the National Zoo’s collection of seven western lowland gorillas died yesterday as a team of veterinary specialists tried to implant a sophisticated cardiac device in his chest to synchronize his heart rhythm.

The 23-year-old gorilla, named Kuja, arrived at the zoo in 1985. He fathered two other males in the zoo’s collection over the past decade.

“He went into heart failure and we do not yet know the cause of that,” said Dr. Suzan Murray, chief veterinarian of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo.

While the animal’s heart function was normal for his age during a routine physical conducted March 31, members of the zoo staff reported lethargy and a loss of appetite earlier this month. A June 20 ultrasound examination indicated that Kuja’s heart muscle was unable to contract normally, and his heart’s pumping capacity had diminished.

One of the leading causes of death among adult male gorillas is heart disease, Dr. Murray said.

The zoo’s medical staff contacted a team from the University of Alabama and the Auburn University Veterinary School that successfully implanted a device called a biventricular pacing-implantable cardioverter defibrillator in a gorilla with similar medical problems.

“His cardiac function decreased from the time we put him on the table,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hall, a veterinary surgeon specializing in cardiac care. The medical team tried unsuccessfully to save the animal with drugs and other emergency procedures.

The doctors are hoping to determine why the gorilla had normal heart function less than four months ago and declined so rapidly.

The zoo has another adult male, Mopie, 35, who also has been diagnosed with heart disease, but his condition is not considered as progressive. The zoo has five other lowland gorillas, including three juveniles.

Kuja was born at the Memphis Zoo and had been part of a captive breeding program involving several zoos committed to preserving the lowland gorilla. He was owned by the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

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