April 19th, 2012
11:22 AM ET

Gadget implant aims to solve gorilla mystery

"Good. Hold," said great ape keeper Amanda Bania to the 200-pound gorilla Kojo as she held what looked like a computer mouse to his back.

The western lowland gorilla leaned his back against his cage at the National Zoo in Washington while being hand fed grapes by zookeeper Elliot Rosenthal.

“Kojo is pretty happy to hold as long as he’s getting grapes,“ said Bania. She then downloaded heart data from an Implantable Loop Recorder (ILR) that had been surgically placed between Kojo's shoulder blades to track his heart rates and rhythms.

While Kojo was chowing on fruit, he was also providing valuable data to help scientists solve a scientific mystery: why do gorillas have problems with their hearts?

Heart disease is a major cause of death among great apes in human care according to Dr. Hayley Murphy of the Great Ape Heart Project.  They estimate that cardiovascular disease plays a significant role in the mortality of over 40% of captive gorillas.

Both Kojo and Kwame - a fellow western lowland gorilla - are part of a project to gather clinical data aimed at improving treatment and preventing heart disease among great apes.

“As we monitor what’s normal for both Kojo and Kwame, we are then going to be able to pick up on minute changes that will help us identify heart disease before they develop clinical signs.  That means we can treat them earlier and we can keep them alive longer,” said Suzan Murray, the zoo's chief veterinary medical officer.

This is the first time the ILRs have been used in gorillas, although the technology has been available for human use for many years.

In humans, the ILR is placed in the chest area where it can easily pick up heart rhythms.  But that location does not work for the gorillas - who can easily reach their chest area and may try to pull out stitches from the surgery.

"We found a place in the back where we can implant the ILR and it doesn't bother the gorilla," said Murray.

Then, they had the animal keepers work with Kojo and Kwame to teach them to present their backs and hold for about 30 seconds so the data could be gathered.

The research marks a critical first step, said Murphy, because experts can now track gorilla cardiac function without using general anesthesia.  Gathering data this way both lowers the risk to the animals and keeps the data from being altered by the use of drugs.

Animals in the wild tend to hide signs of sickness as a protective measure until the last minute.

"That's been an issue with cardiac disease and gorillas," said Murray.  "Before we knew about this disease process, a lot of gorillas presented with sudden death.  They were fine one minute and then found dead the next minute."

The ILR will give the doctors an early heads-up to gorilla heart problems.

"As our closest living relatives, it is critical to both human and ape health to figure out why the apes are dying of cardiac disease in zoos and how this disease pattern relates to or differs from human heart disease," said Murphy.  "If we can determine what is causing ape heart disease, and how to effectively prevent and/or treat the disease, we may provide clues to improving human cardiac health."

Post by: ,
Filed under: On Earth • Scientific mysteries
soundoff (96 Responses)
  1. JustHere

    If we really want to do something good for these animals, maybe we could get them on a heart transplant list. There are plenty of no good animals in our jail system that could be used for the saving of the great ape...

    April 20, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  2. mema

    It is probably partically due to the stress of captivity. Let them free!

    April 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Sandy L

      It's probably due to lack of exercise.

      April 19, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  3. jannerl

    Hey Nadine – HAHAHAHAHAHA, good one!

    April 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  4. Profmox

    "Heart disease is a major cause of death among great apes in human care according to Dr. Hayley Murphy of the Great Ape Heart Project. They estimate that cardiovascular disease plays a significant role in the mortality of over 40% of captive gorillas."

    What's the mortality rate from heart disease of gorillas in the wild? If it's less than 40%, I say keep them out of captivity.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  5. cpc65

    Secondhand smoke?

    April 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • babooph

      Not enough red meat...

      April 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  6. Petty Palin

    Meanwhile back at the prestigious Sarah Palin University researchers are planting chips into future and current teabaggers. These implants will function to deny everything science in the teabaggers mind, such as global warming, overpopulation, the dinosaurs, the moon landing, evolution and the big bang.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • MrHanson

      You meen there are people that don't actually believe we aren't one giant lucky cosmic accident? We're doomed! What's a dinosaur?

      April 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • nadine

      I am a TEA BAGGER and I am offended by your comment. I believe that: Global warming is a myth, overpopulation is absolute humbug and we are way underpopulated, dinosaurs never existed and their fossils were planted by atheists, moon landing was a hoax, evolution is total nonsense because I am 32 years old and have not evolved since childbirth, big bang there is no proof of that noise because nobody alive or dead ever heard it. please go read the bible and you might learn something. –D

      April 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
      • ilikecheese

        Go to school idiot and learn about a. fossilization b. TELEVISION (an amazing thing that lets you see things in OTHER PLACES and c. cosmic backround radiation and the definition of THEORY and EDUCATED GEUSS

        April 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
      • Hunter

        Some people just don't recognize good sarcasm when they see it.

        April 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  7. Debby

    Sorry these animals can't be left alone in the wild. This poor thing in that cage for people to gawk at.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  8. b

    Do they keep getting their jimmies rustled?

    April 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  9. joe


    April 19, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • mema

      If only. I feel so sorry for these Apes. I live near houston and have made a few trips to the Zoo. The male Ape there just turns his back to everyone gawking at him and looks so very sad. I wish they could be free but there is also the fear of pouching them in Africa for their palms. Truely sad.

      April 19, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  10. NoAnjel

    A zoo is paradise compared to what they do to the killer whales!

    April 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Thinks2010


      April 19, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  11. AlaskaBorn

    Hey, ya'all, if business corporations are "people" (Supreme Court) then too are gorillas (99% genetically homeo sapiens).

    April 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  12. Snottykid

    If Obama had a gorilla, it would look like Trayvon. Did he really say that? Oh yes he did...

    April 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • AlaskaBorn

      dork..... illiterate? unable to comprehend educated ideas and writings?

      April 19, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • nsfrankie

      Surprised you can read and write being so ignorant. See your mom didnt venture out of your trailer park much to find out about abortions

      April 20, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  13. Early/Often/Drinker

    There are permutaions & derivations from wild to cage that misinterprets the complexcities involved with a complicated subject dealing with differances & challenges of seperating the two situations

    April 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Terry

      Have another drink!!

      April 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Larissa Ruhland

      You should learn to spell.

      April 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
      • Terry

        I think the spelling is part of the joke.

        April 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  14. Joe Blow

    What's next? VIAGRA? Might as well give the ape his moneys worth...

    April 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  15. Thinks2010

    I'm just speculating but I wouldn't be too surprised if it had to do with lack of sufficient exercise since these captive animals no longer forage over large areas. I also wouldn't be too surprised to find out that it is also stress related because these social animals are either forced to live relatively solitary lives or are forced to live in small groups in a small area with not much of interest to due. They might be getting on each others nerves.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Debby

      I agree no wonder they have heart disease.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  16. nice

    Feel bad for the apes with heart issues but since they so closely related to humans then I am guessing that the data they find could help detect early cardiovascular issues in humans before it is to late to do somethng about.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Dr. B

      Thanks for summing up the final paragraph of the article, sparky. Hazards of posting before reading, I guess. ::smh::

      April 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  17. Kenny

    Can we implant some of these chips on our political figures? Let's start with Senator McCain.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Thinks2010

      If they studied Dick Cheney's heart they would discover the problem was cardiac suicide. What heart wouldn't lose the will to live inside that evil man.

      April 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
      • Suek596

        Cheney has a heart??? Since when?

        April 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
      • Amelia

        I'd have to agree, Aggitation and being 'Locked' up no matter how Sweet the Physicians and\or Staff are, it will never be their Natural Habitat.

        April 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • intothemoonbeam

      How about Palin? she thinks Gorilla's are a hoax.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  18. LR

    Our hard-earned tax dollars at work again with ridiculous "govt sponsored" studies. You can bet this zoo receives huge amounts of govt grant money to implant gorillas with devices and feed them grapes all day. Sad and pathetic waste of our money and a gorilla's life:(

    April 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • intothemoonbeam

      I'd rather have my tax dollars go to scientific research like this instead of going to Welfare.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
      • EuphoriCrest

        Perhaps some of the scientists involved in this research were able to survive childhood and go to college because your tax dollars supported welfare.

        April 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  19. The Decline

    Terry – have you ever worked in a zoo? Have you ever spent time training large intelligent animals like gorillas? I may not be able to look into their minds but I do have a couple friends that have worked with gorillas and I dont think you have any insight in this subject.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Terry

      There once were two elderly ladies who went to the gorilla exhibit at the zoo. Mertle, one of the ladies, says to the other, "You know if you put that gorilla in a suit and tie, he would be quite cute" Her friend says, "Oh, Mertle, that is disgusting. I am ready to leave." Mertle says "ok", but as she turns to leave, she winks at the gorilla. Well, the gorilla goes wild and breaks out and grabs Mertle and takes her into the woods and has his "way" with her. Of course, Mertle is quite injuried and goes into the hospital. Later her freind comes to see her and says. "Oh, Mertle this is just terrible that this happened. How do you feel, honey?" Mertle replies, "Well how the hell do you think I feel. He hasn't called, or written me or anything!!!"

      April 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Terry

      How's that for insight!!!

      April 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  20. Bill

    The reason for heart disease in captive animals is that they live significantly longer than wild apes. Given the extra decades, wild gorillas would develop heart disease too. They just don't live long enough to do so. Human studies would show the same thing if they were comparing 30 year olds in Iowa vs. 75 year olds in New York.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • AlaskaBorn

      How to Prevent Heart Disease: eat right (vegetables & grains, lower fat, reduced "bad" cholesterol), keep blood pressure down/normal, and EXERCISE are key to maintaining a healthy heart. How much necessary and minimal exercises do any of the the zoo animals get? Say, can I get grant money to test my hypothesis?

      April 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
      • jd

        The answer to heart disease you are talking about is for humans. Gorillas are already vegetarians.

        April 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  21. Terry

    Reply to "The Decline" you are just a little smarty mouth, aren't you?

    April 19, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • The Decline

      You got me pegged Terry.

      April 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  22. Luvvy Duvvy

    Everyone, including the President, needs to read "Escape from Camp 14". It is One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, and will open your eyes to what type of horrors are happening there. How can we, as freedom loving people, just sit back and ignore these poor people? We need to go in and stop it now!

    April 19, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  23. EricLr

    Because they just love too much.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • beelzabarber

      best response I have ever seen on a story. Lovely creatures

      April 19, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Techsupport

      Love the limbs right off your body <3

      April 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
      • jd

        Chimps and humans are the violent apes; gorillas and orangutans are gentle.

        April 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  24. The Decline

    I am amazed at how many of you think that all zoos are just glorified prisons. How many of you have actually worked as a trainer for a zoo? How many of you have actually been behind the scenes? Animals tend to live a lot longer in captivity than in the wild so all this BS about them being depressed is crazy. Sure there are bad zoos, or just bad conditions in some zoos but to say all animals in all zoos are depressed is asinine.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • easilo

      People also tend to anthropomorphize animals, thinking they have a sense of freedom or think that the captive bred animals know "what they are missing". If you were born and raised in a zoo you wouldn't know you were supposed to be in a rainforest in Africa. Yes animals taken from the wild will remember their homes but these second and third generation plus animals born in zoos have no sense of freedom or a wild life and most would not survive if we just through them back in the wild Just like most North Americans would never be able to survive living a peasant's life in Africa.

      April 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
      • easilo


        April 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Terry

      OK, you would live longer too if we put you in a cage and control everything about your life. So, come on to the cage !

      April 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
      • easilo

        I'll be a smarty mouth too. What do you humans do for the majority of their lives sit at their little office cage for eight hours a day, then sit in their other little box, called their house for the rest of the day. Hmm wait a sec with the internet we don't even leave the house for food anymore. Sounds like humans live in a cage of their own making.

        April 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
      • Terry

        "Their own making" being a key wording there.

        April 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
      • mema

        Easilo do you work for a zoo! I mean people are speculating and showing compassion. I disagree that it is that black and white. I have had pets my whole life and they sense human feeling, human sickness, can serve as a friend for a lonely person, so forth...My pets had changed behavior when another was missing or when their enviroment changed. Have you been to an animal shelter, breaks my heart as I want to give them all a loving home. I am just saying there is more to it than what we currently understand.

        April 19, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • nsfrankie

      Matbe we should put you in captivity, maybe a cage at the Mall. See how your doing in a few years.

      April 20, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  25. fauxhawk70

    Maybe at the same time they should test inmates and see if there is a connection! Wouldn't it be logical to think that these gorillas being caged as they are feel as if they are in prison with no hope of ever seeing the jungle or other mates, family again?

    That would cause me enough stress to affect my health! I am certain of it!

    April 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • The Decline

      You think gorillaz think in the same cognitive fashion as humans? You think a Gorilla pines for the jungle? Does he miss his friends? I mean, do gorillas have hope now? Didnt realize apes have dreams to be dashed, goals in life that need to be accomplished. You dont want to be in a small cell because YOU ARE HUMAN....moron. You think differently, process information differently and have much more complicated emotions!!!

      April 19, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
      • easilo

        I agree with you mostly except that the great apes as closely related to humans have a more complex emotional life than we think they do. But I still agree that they don't pine for the jungle but mostly because they don't know what a jungle is.

        April 19, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
      • Terry

        What? Have you done a mind melt with an ape ? You seem to know just everything about their thoughts.

        April 19, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
      • The Decline

        Yes Terry, I have. Only me and three other employees have that gift. Pathetic.

        April 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
      • mema

        I would have to disagree. I have no experience with working around Apes but I have and have had many different pets. I have seen quite dramatic effects on them due to changes in enviroment, diet, exercise, interaction as well as having a playmate. When we have lost a pets to illness the others will many times not eat, play or interact the same. Or when we moved our pets hid for weeks under beds and in cabinets. Im not saying they reason as we do but there is more to them than we underatand. Go to someones house and watch a family pet then go to shelter, big difference. Also animals have different personalities, for lack of a better word. Just a personal observation.

        April 19, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  26. easilo

    In a perfect world it would be awesome if we didn't have to put animals in captivity. But do you think the lives of animals in the wild have it so awesome these days? Their homes are being decimated by chainsaws, they are being hunted by humans with guns for food or the pet trade. Or hunted by predators. Yes sounds great.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • fauxhawk70

      We as humans have prison for our criminals for a reason! It makes sense that being caged is not fun!

      I would rather be free and take my chances out in the wild than be locked up without a chance!

      April 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
      • easilo

        You are anthropomorphizing animals, thinking that they know they are supposed to be in a rainforest in Africa though. It doesn't say these were wild bred gorillas. They would have no clue how to live in the wild at this point. It would take a huge amount of resources to rehabilitate all captive bred animals to put them back in the wild. Again in a perfect world it would be awesome if we could do this but again a ton of resources for how many to actually be successfully reintroduced into the wild. Just think what would you do if you had to leave your cushy western life to go live in Africa. Well that's exactly what would happen to these animals.

        April 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
      • southsidemike

        we have prisons to keep society safe from criminals

        April 19, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  27. David Ellis

    If in the wild they live X years, dying of violence/hunger/whatever and in captivity they live much longer than that, then it doesn't really mean much. It only proves that bodies were generally not designed to live passed child rearing years, 40-50 years old for humans max, and then everything starts going downhill from there.
    For gorillas it just means their hearts are the weakest link in a weakening chain.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  28. tensai13

    Put some previously healthy humans in the empty zoo cage next door to the gorillas and strip them naked. After 10 years see if operating Thetans from some other galaxy can tell the difference. I doubt it.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  29. jmat

    I will go with depression. even the best zoo facility is about equal to the human version of a non aggressive concentration camp or maybe a minimum security white collar prison at best. those brought from the wild (not born in captivity) probably miss their families and their habitats. being within earshot of a tiger or other natural enemy while at the zoo probably does not help their stress level or happiness eithereven if they detect it by smell sound or sight.

    for the one in the picture above, in the cage, i will go with he does not like being in a cage...thus dpression, or whatever else.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  30. Fiona

    Captive near-humans, denied adequate exercise and stimulation, doomed to a life with few challenges and little hope for anything better...willing to do anything for grapes. Why is anyone puzzled why these magnificent animals get heart disease? Stress, boredom, despair, emotional eating, lack of exercise...they could be your average human in the US. They need Dr. Oz.

    I abhor zoos.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • ForGoodOfAll

      I was thinking the same thing, Fiona.

      April 19, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Say What?

      I think before we snap to judgement you need to look at life out of captivity for these great Apes. Most of there land is under sieger from local farmers and pouchers and the rangers that protect these womderful creatures are underfunded and out manned. Life in hte jungle is not peaches and cream. You need to know also how many were brought into captivity because of illness, danger or rescued. Even cats and dogs kept indoor though show signs of stress from anything to immune systems failure to weight issues.

      April 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • The Decline

      how do you know they are denied adequet exercise, stimulation, and challenges? I know a few animal trainers that ahve worked for zoos and I can tell you that is not the case with all zoos. Maybe you should back off your idiology and do some actual research before you start making suchs BS statements

      April 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  31. Liz in Seattle

    What do gorillas die of in the wild? Is life expectancy a lot longer or the same? Is cardiovascular disease found in non-captive gorillas? These data can't be interpreted without context.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Fiona

      They die in the wild largely at the hand of poachers hunting for bushmeat and baby gorillas.

      April 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
      • The Decline

        Fiona, you're an idiot. Seriously. Gorillas die for many reasons in the wild just like all other animals. It isnt all poaching and loss of habitat. Grow up. You words you type make you look like you're 10

        April 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  32. AJ

    They should check if this pattern prevails with zoo born Gorillas too. If not, then it is their environmental problem. Set them free.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • easilo

      Set them free where? Most captive animals these days were born in captivity and would not have a clue how to survive in the wild. Not to mention you have to find room in what's left of Africa's rainforest for them where they won't be slaughtered for meat or the trees cut down for plantations. And find them somewhere they are not going to be out-competed by established gorilla tribes. Africa is full of people there's not much room left for wild life.

      April 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
      • David

        Set them free in the ghettos of America....maybe they can clean those up for us.

        April 19, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  33. anonymous

    Here's a guess, and it's just a guess.. you have these animals locked behind cages. They're living sedentary lives. They can't roam, they can't travel. They just sit around having a bunch of idiot humans staring at them day in and day out.. I get that people want to save animals because we're killing them, but seriously, locking them behind bars isn't doing them any favors.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • dana

      Well said!!! I totally agree with your statement.

      April 19, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Guest

      Maybe circus animals,but those zoo animals in natural habitats and trained caregivers have better lives than you or me.

      April 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • ForGoodOfAll

      I agree, too!

      April 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  34. Jimmy Rustler

    Their heart problems are most likely caused by their jimmies getting rustled on a regular basis.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Rob

      LOL touche sir, touche

      April 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  35. Joaquin

    Gorillas with heart problems locked in a zoo with a bunch of scientists probing them. The probable cause of heart failure may be stress or captivity, that's what the conclusion of those experiments will be.

    April 19, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • mema

      That will likely be a major factor. However I doubt they publish those findings. It will be swept under the rug Im sure.

      April 19, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  36. Nononsense

    Gorillas in captivity have heart problems....hmmmm? I wonder why? is it because of the lack of exercise? limited variety of food in captivity?

    April 19, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Devo

      and to think they need to do lab tests to figure out that no brainer!!!!!!!!!!!!

      April 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  37. Lee

    You idiots need a study to figure out that lack of exercise and stress from being in a cage causes heart disease?

    April 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • LR

      Right on! Our hard-earned tax dollars at work again with ridiculous "govt sponsored" studies. You can bet this zoo receives huge amounts of govt grant money to implant gorillas with devices and feed them grapes all day. Sad and pathetic waste of our money and a gorilla's life:(

      April 19, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  38. greatapeheartproject

    Reblogged this on Great Ape Heart Project and commented:
    Here's more info from CNN.com about the National Zoo's recent ILR surgeries, including a commentary from GAHP Director, Hayley Murphy.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm |


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