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Health Factors Threaten Gorillas But Why?

Silverback Gorilla

What's a significant threat to the survival of captive gorillas? Surprisingly it's heart disease.

It's ironic. In the wild, gorillas inch closer to extinction daily from habitat loss and poaching. Because of this troubling outlook for wild gorillas, zookeepers especially want to maintain captive gorillas in good health.

Yet male gorillas in zoos and preserves have significant rates of chronic heart disease. So high that veterinarian Pam Dennis of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo describes heart disease as "a major threat to gorilla health."

Are genetics a factor? Or diet, or exercise, or a virus? To find answers, researchers have formed the Gorilla Health Project, a collaboration of zoos across North America. They are pooling information to form a database about gorilla heart disease and other conditions affecting captive gorillas.

At the Cleveland zoo, recent heart exams of two males in their twenties revealed signs of minor heart disease in one and advanced heart disease in the other.

Just like humans, they're now taking beta blockers and/or ACE inhibitors, to hopefully stem their disease progression. And now thanks to the database, how they fare may help other gorillas.

Script by Bob Rhein