Taming Gorilla Heart Disease a Beastly Task

With great apes dying at alarming rates, zoos try to train some difficult patients
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2008 2:40 PM CDT
Taming Gorilla Heart Disease a Beastly Task
Daniel Jimenez gets a close look at a lowland gorilla at the Fort Worth Zoo, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2008.   (AP Photo)

With heart disease nearly epidemic among America’s captive gorilla population, zookeepers are trying to train the great apes to submit to the human medical procedures that could save their lives. But getting a gorilla to sit still for a blood test is a taxing problem, one the National Zoo is just starting to figure out. The Washington Post pays a visit to the exam room.

Scientists nationwide are studying the problem, which accounts for 41% of captive gorilla deaths. But it was National Zoo gorilla keepers, many members of the self-dubbed “Gorilla Girls” team of researchers, who thought to apply to gorillas techniques used to train pandas to accept medicine. They’re slowly making progress, but poking a 500-pound gorilla with a needle is never easy. (Read more gorilla stories.)

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