Sunday, 22 April 2012

Orangutans sit still for heart ultrasound at zoo


ATLANTA (AP) — The 9-year-old patient sits still, munching on popcorn and sipping grape juice while he gets an ultrasound of his heart.

Every so often, he wiggles free long enough to swing from the ceiling or stick out his tongue before resuming a statue-like pose. Orangutans aren't known for their patience, but this one, named Satu, has been trained to let researchers at Zoo Atlanta perform echocardiograms on him while he's awake.

It's part of a groundbreaking national project — the Great Ape Heart Project housed in Atlanta — that researches heart disease in the rust-colored apes. Heart problems are the No. 1 killer of orangutans, gorillas and other apes living in captivity, and the disease threatens the work researchers have done to help increase the population of the endangered species.

"We don't really know what is causing it. Once we can understand that, hopefully we can treat it," said Hayley Murphy, director of veterinary services at Zoo Atlanta. "Our ultimate goal would be to prevent it in these amazing animals, these endangered species.

"We don't really know what is causing it. Once we can understand that, hopefully we can treat it," said Hayley Murphy, director of veterinary services at Zoo Atlanta. "Our ultimate goal would be to prevent it in these amazing animals, these endangered species. We're really trying hard to get a handle on this."

Researchers have been collecting data on gorilla heart disease for a decade, but zoos are just now starting to gather that information on orangutans. In February, Zoo Atlanta was the first facility to perform an awake echocardiogram on an orangutan.

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