Gorilla checkup at Seattle zoo: It takes a village

By Linda Weiford, WSU News

gorilla-vets-200SEATTLE – No one can say the 420-pound gorilla in the operating room wasn’t noticed. Vip, a 35-year-old silverback at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, was given a head-to-toe physical last week by a team of veterinary specialists, including three from Washington State University.

It took 10 people to lift the sedated, barrel-chested ape known as a “gorilla’s gorilla” onto the operating table for a full battery of tests, including a cardiac ultrasound, blood work and X-rays.

“Indeed, it was my first gorilla,” said WSU’s Tammy Grubb, assistant clinical professor of anesthesia and analgesia who served as a consultant during the procedure done at Woodland Park’s Animal Health Complex.

Working with Vip are WSU veterinarians, from left, Tammy Grubb, Tania Perez and Lais Malavasi, and zoo vet Darin Collins, lead gorilla zookeeper Hugh Bailey and zoo vet Kelly Helmick. (Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis)

“It was a win-win situation,” she said. “The zoo specialists were able to discuss their drugs, equipment and anesthetic plan with WSU anesthesiologists and we were able to participate in the anesthesia of a species that we don’t get a chance to anesthetize at our veterinary teaching hospital.”

Vip is the alpha male of one of three gorilla groups, or troops, at the zoo. A swath of silvery-white fur runs down his back, hence the name silverback, as an adult male of the western lowland species. All gorillas are endangered, mostly because of habitat loss and poaching.

During the exam, Vip’s doctors paid close attention to his heart.

“For reasons that we don’t yet understand, gorillas – especially male gorillas – suffer a variety of heart problems,” said Darin Collins, the zoo’s director of animal health. Employing the same technology that’s used on humans, “when our gorillas come in for their physicals, we put them through heart tests to see how they’re doing,” he said.

And good news, folks – other than some expected wear and tear on a few teeth and a little “age-related” arthritis around the knees, Vip’s doctors have pronounced him fit.

“He’s in great condition,” said Collins.

After the anesthesia wore off, Vip was given fluids to drink and, later, carrots – his favorite food.



Linda Weiford, WSU News, 509-335-7209, linda.weiford@wsu.edu