Check out this report on Vip, one of the silverback male gorillas at the Woodland Park Zoo, and his recent surgery.

Priori to last week, Vip had been sick with a sinus infection, but hadn’t been responding to the standard antibiotic treatments.  Last week, it got much worse and was seriously threatening his overall health.  Vip was taken to a medical facility in Seattle where he was given a CT scan that showed the extent of the infection – and that surgery would be necessary.

One of the many things that makes the Woodland Park Zoo such a world-class facility is its animal health department, with the support of the local medical community: both vet specialist and human medical specialists. While the vet staff at the Zoo are truly amazing, they are generalists and are not proficient at every last procedure that might be needed. They also don’t have at hand every last special piece of equipment that might be needed (case in point: a CT scanner for a 425-pound gorilla). But the Seattle medical community regularly shows its support for the Zoo by donating time and loaning equipment as needed.

Doing this kind of procedure is very tricky, even just starting with the anesthesia. There are decades of documented history in the use of anesthesia on humans; far less on its use on animals. Ok, there’s probably a fair amount on dogs and cats, but very little on gorillas.  What kind works best on gorillas, and how much do you give to a 425-pound gorilla? You need to keep it unconscious (because if it wakes up before it’s safely back in its exhibit, all sorts of bad happens) but if you give it too much you can cause brain damage. And time is of the essence, as you want to minimize the time that the gorilla is under anesthesia, so everyone is moving quickly. It takes a team to get this right, before, during and after the procedure.

As the story points out, endoscopic sinus surgery is extremely common with humans, but not at all on gorillas. How much of the physiology is the same, and what does a doctor skilled in the procedure need to know in order to perform it on an adult male gorilla?

All seems to have gone well, and Vip is recovering — and can once again breathe through his nose!!! It’s a real tribute to the whole team that saw him through the past week: keepers, vet staff, support staff, and members of the Seattle medical community.


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