bettering the health of organutansWorking Together

March 26, 2015

In a true display of collaboration the Virginia Zoo medical staff and Sentara Cardiologists are working together to ensure the best care for two of the Zoo’s orangutans, Pepper and Schnitz.  Part of these animals’ care are yearly health examinations and evaluations. During this exam, the Zoo’s veterinarian Dr. Amanda Guthrie and Sentara Cardiologists, Dr. Mohit Bhasin and Dr. Robert McCray collected echocardiographic images, better known as cardiac ultrasounds, from these orangutans to look for any signs of heart disease.

Heart disease is one of the most common causes of morbidity and mortality in all four great apes: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos. It is especially prevalent in middle aged and older animals and often is seen more in males than females.  Pepper, the female, and Schnitz, the male, are both middle aged orangutans. They are a bonded pair that have been at the Zoo since 2011.

The heart disease seen in apes is similar to humans but also very different. “By partnering with Sentara doctors we can collaborate with experts in the field and further our learnings on orangutan heart health and learn something about heart disease from each other,” comments Dr. Amanda Guthrie. Early detection is imperative for treating heart disease in apes; and ultrasounds have been a vital diagnostic tool in helping to determine early signs of the disease.

Amanda Guthrie, D.V.M. led the examination and the cardiologists from Sentara read the echocardiogram.  The cardiologists are familiar with viewing and assessing cardiac ultrasounds and can quickly interpret the data. All ultrasounds and measurements are evaluated by cardiologist and Dr. Guthrie.

With the conclusion of the exam, all of the cardiac exam forms have been submitted to The Great Ape Heart Project (GAHP). This Project is the world’s first multi-institutional effort to understand, diagnose, and treat cardiac disease across all four great ape taxa. This organization addresses a critical need within the zoo community to investigate and understand cardiovascular disease. The Great Ape Heart Project created and now maintains a centralized database that analyzes cardiac data, generates reports and coordinates cardiac-related research activities.  This information helps individual animals, as well as enhancing the body of knowledge internationally.

All animals, plants, humans and ecosystems on this planet are inextricably linked and by working together we can all benefit.