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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Breathe easy: Gorilla Vip recovers from successful sinus surgery

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

Gorilla Vip is recovering from sinus surgery performed over the weekend. More than 25 medical specialists joined the zoo’s veterinary team and donated their time and expertise to help the 36-year-old, 430-pound gorilla. Vip remains off view in an enclosure at the gorilla exhibit.

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

A similar surgery was performed a year ago on the western lowland gorilla for treatment of a chronic sinus infection. As a result of that successful surgery to remove polyps (growths within the nasal sinuses), Vip was able to breathe normally through his nose for the first time in weeks. In recent days, however, symptoms re-emerged, explained Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of Animal Health. “It was evident that Vip was experiencing some level of discomfort, likely from a repeat sinus infection. During this second round of surgery, polyps and infection were surgically removed,” said Collins. “We are hopeful that Vip will slowly progress to full recovery over the coming days and weeks. We’ll continue to closely monitor him as he recovers.”

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine


This year, a team of allergy and immunology specialists was pulled in to help the zoo further develop diagnostics and treatment options. “In humans, nose and sinus infections are typically recurrent and people describe headache pain and sinus congestion. We hope new treatment options will help mitigate polyps and sinus infections into the future,” added Collins. “Controlling the gorilla’s reaction to allergens may be key to decreasing or preventing new polyps from developing.”

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

“Fortunately, the polyps and infection found in Vip were minor compared to what was found a year ago,” said Greg Davis, M.D., M.P.H., University of Washington (UW) associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and Director of Rhinology and Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery, who led last year’s and this year’s surgical medical teams. “We collected many samples, which need interpretation so we may better define the reasons why Vip is getting these sinus infections. We remain cautiously optimistic that Vip will continue to feel well in the days that follow.”

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

A cardiologist also joined the surgical team to administer a routine cardiac ultrasound and EKG as part of the zoo’s preventive health program for its great apes.

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

Most of the medical consultants were from UW, including Kelley Branch, M.D., M.S., UW associate professor of Medicine in the UW Medicine Division of Cardiology, and human and veterinary allergists Drew Ayars, M.D., assistant professor of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and Dan Petroni, M.D., both from UW Medicine. A veterinarian specialist, Kim Coyner, D.V.M., also performed allergy testing on the gorilla. “We are indebted to the medical specialists who each donated their time and expertise for the procedure, and Medtronic, Storz, and Intersect ENT companies who generously provided the equipment and medical personnel, which were critical to making this procedure possible,” added Collins.

McKenna Princing/UW Medicine

Adult male gorillas are referred to as silverbacks. Vip is named for being a Very Important Primate and is the leader of one of the zoo’s three gorilla groups. Visitors and keepers know the silverback as the bedrock of his group. He shares the zoo’s East exhibit with two females, daughter Uzumma, 7, and adult mate Jumoke, 30. Since arriving at the zoo in 1996, Vip has sired six daughters and continues to be a supporting figure for his group.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the critically endangered western lowland gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Study, one of the zoo’s Partners for Wildlife. The study researches the social organization and behaviors of more than 400 lowland gorillas living in the southwest of Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. The data collected enables scientists to assess the vulnerability of populations to habitat threats and predict their ability to recover from decline.

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