KU School of Medicine-Wichita faculty member performs procedure on SCZ gorilla

WICHITA, KAN. – Veterinarians at the Sedgwick County Zoo recently partnered with Dr. Nathan Tofteland, assistant professor of gastroenterology at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, to perform an upper and lower gastrointestinal exam on Billy, a 28-year-old lowland gorilla.
Billy has suffered from intermittent chronic diarrhea for the past two years, with no relief from various medicines or diet changes. Previous tests – radiographs, parasitology, cultures – all came back negative and ruled out many possible causes of the condition. Animal care staff has charted his diet consumption, general disposition, shifting compliance, and fecal consistency but haven’t seen any significant statistical correlations.
“His condition worsens when there have been changes in his environment or after a thunderstorm,” says Danielle Decker, senior keeper of primates at SCZ. “We suspect it’s stress-related, but we still need to rule out any gastrointestinal disease.”
The next step in determining the cause of Billy’s diarrhea was an endoscopic procedure to view the inside of his gastrointestinal tract. The procedure was made possible just recently by a donation from Jack and Bernice Pearson, which the Oliver Animal Hospital used to purchase an endoscope. The Pearsons gave to SCZ in memory of their late daughter Liz, who dedicated her life to caring for orphaned gorillas in Africa.
The Zoo’s veterinary team called upon Dr. Tofteland, an expert in his field, to execute the procedure.
“Zoo vets are often like general practitioners,” says Dr. Heather Arens, veterinarian at SCZ. “We know how to care for everything in the Zoo from tree frogs to elephants. So we’re lucky that we have such a supportive community to call upon when there’s a need for a specialized procedure.”
Because great apes are primates, their anatomy is very similar to the human patients that a medical doctor sees on a daily basis.
“KU School of Medicine-Wichita is dedicated to caring for the health of Kansas,” says Dr. Tofteland. “So this was a great opportunity for me to use my skills to provide services to an even broader community of Kansans.”
Following the procedure, Billy is doing well and will be back on the indoor habitat today with his brother, Tommy. Results from the procedure should be available in a couple of weeks.
The Sedgwick County Zoo is a not-for-profit organization, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. For more information, visit www.aza.org. Sedgwick County Zoo is also a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums www.waza.org. Sedgwick County Zoo has been recognized with national and international awards for its support of field conservation programs and successful breeding of rare and endangered species. It's the No. 1 outdoor family tourist attraction in Kansas and is home to more than 3,000 animals of nearly 400 different species. For more information, visit www.scz.org.

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