Western lowland gorillas at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium are part of an innovative training program to teach them to voluntarily participate in echocardiograms.
Countless hours of training by animal care staff have led to gorillas at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium voluntarily participating in echocardiogram exams and indirect blood pressure testing. Animal care staff use positive reinforcement techniques to shape animal behaviors. Gorillas voluntarily present their chest for the echocardiogram and place their arm in a fabricated sleeve for a blood pressure measurement. Because the animal voluntarily participates in the exam, animal care staff can examine the gorilla without anesthesia. Alegent Creighton Clinic Cardiac Center generously volunteers the equipment and ultranagrapher.
Echocardiogram testing is important for gorillas because cardiac disease is a problem in all great apes. Due to the importance of these species and the severity of the disease problem, the Great Ape Heart Project, dedicated solely to cardiovascular evaluations in great ape species, was established with the support of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for all major great ape species. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has been a leader in this national project and has assembled one of the most complete echocardiographic data set of any group of gorillas in the country.
Cardiac disease is the number one cause of morbidity and mortality in captive Western lowland male gorillas. The earlier cardiac disease is diagnosed, the sooner it can be addressed and treated, leaving a better long term prognosis for the gorilla. Echocardiograms are now incorporated into the regular physical exam process of gorillas at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. The Alegent Creighton Clinic Cardiac Center generously volunteers their equipment and an ultrasonagrapher to do the echocardiograms. Since 2007, with their help, the Zoo has done echocardiograms approximately every 16 months on the male gorillas. The female gorillas have had echocardiograms completed two times and in 2011 the Zoo completed echocardiograms on all of the orangutans.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium currently has ten males and three female gorillas on display at Hubbard Gorilla Valley.