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Gorilla to undergo a physical examination, including a cardiac work-up, at Franklin Park Zoo

Kitombe, a western lowland gorilla, will be put under anesthesia tomorrow at Franklin Park Zoo so the zoo’s veterinary staff can examine him.

In recent months, Kitombe, affectionately known as Kit, has been experiencing health issues that have not improved with medication. At 37 years old, Kit is considered geriatric and it is hoped that through this thorough exam, the Zoo’s veterinary team will be able to determine the cause of his health issues, which include loss of muscle mass and a chronic, persistent cough when swallowing.

“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. While Kit’s demeanor, activity and appetite are all normal, we are concerned about his chronic cough and loss of muscle mass, and hope to better understand the causes so that we can devise a treatment plan,” said Dr. Christopher Bonar, Zoo New England Director of Animal Health. “Any animal immobilization involving general anesthesia 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.”

The examination will include a general physical examination, blood work and a cardiac exam. The Zoo’s veterinary team will be assisted by ear, nose and throat specialists, as well as veterinary cardiology and anesthesiology specialists.

The results received from the cardiac exam will go into a national database to assist in diagnosing cardiac disease in other gorillas. Kit has long had mild heart enlargement for which he has been receiving medication. Cardiac disease is the biggest health issue affecting male gorillas in human care, which why routine monitoring, proactive care and cardiac exams are so important.

Through the well-established training programs, zookeepers and veterinarians are able to regularly listen to the gorillas’ heartbeats, perform cardiac ultrasounds, administer injections and check their eyes, ears, teeth, feet and hands. During a routine preventative health exam in 2020, it was revealed that Kit has glaucoma, which has since been treated with daily eye drops.