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Gorilla to undergo a general physical examination

Boston, Mass. – Okpara, a western lowland gorilla, will be put under anesthesia tomorrow at Franklin Park Zoo for examination by the zoo’s veterinarians.

The exam for Okpara, affectionately known as Okie, will include a general physical, blood work and a cardiac exam. The results received from the cardiac exam will go into a national database to assist in diagnosing cardiac disease in other gorillas and helping researchers learn more about cardiac disease in people.

“Okie is 20 years old and while he has been healthy to date, he will be receiving a full cardiac work-up as is normal for gorillas his age. Cardiac disease is the biggest health issue affecting gorillas in captivity, which is one reason why this type of proactive, routine care is so important,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England Director of Veterinary Services.

While Okie’s examination is considered routine preventative care, whenever anesthesia is administered there is always a risk to the animals and people involved in the procedure.

“Gorillas are wild animals and as such, pre-anesthetic evaluations as extensive as those that would routinely be done on people and domestic animals, are not possible,” said Baitchman. “Any animal immobilization involving general anesthesia, particularly for a larger animal, always carries some risk. We never enter into these procedures lightly and every possible effort is made to keep the animal, as well as the people involved in the procedure, safe and healthy.”

Dr. Emily McCobb, a Clinical Assistant Professor specializing in Anesthesia at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University will be assisting during the examination.

Through the established training programs at the zoo, the zookeepers are able to regularly listen to the gorillas’ heartbeats, perform ultrasounds, take their blood pressure, administer injections, check their eyes, ears, teeth, feet and hands, and get regular weights. Okie weighs 362 pounds.

Training through positive reinforcement and operant conditioning allows the animals to voluntarily participate in activities that challenge them to think and learn new things in exchange for a favorite treat. The animals are trained not only in husbandry behaviors that assist the zookeepers in daily care, but also in medical behaviors to help the hospital staff with veterinary care.

While the training programs are a vital component of the exceptional care that takes place at the zoo, a full physical exam like the one scheduled for Okie tomorrow is needed to offer a full picture of the animal’s health. Okie’s last physical exam under anesthesia was in 2008.

Please note: Following the procedure, an updated press release will be issued. Photo opportunities are not available.



Zoo New England manages Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham. Both are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Zoo New England's mission is to inspire people to protect and sustain the natural world for future generations by creating fun and engaging experiences that integrate wildlife and conservation programs, research, and education.