Oliver, the male orangutan at the Birmingham Zoo, will have a medical evaluation performed this week to further assess a heart arrhythmia and to place a remote cardiac device under his skin.
Oliver was diagnosed with heart disease in the fall of 2015, and measures were taken to help with the progressive disease including monitoring his diet and weight. Since then, Zoo Animal Care Professionals have been working with him continuously to be able to monitor his heart with regular voluntary ultrasounds without anesthesia. On a recent routine exam he was found to have developed a cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. While Oliver is not showing any symptoms relating to this, the procedure will allow for his heart to be fully evaluated by a team of human cardiologists and veterinarians.
During the exam, a Loop Recorder, a very small device delivered with a needle, will be placed under his skin that will allow the Veterinary Staff to monitor Oliver for an arrhythmia through a Blue-tooth connection. This device is routinely used in people and has also been used in chimpanzees and gorillas. Oliver will be the first orangutan to have this device placed internally and utilized for cardiac monitoring.
“We’ve consulted with experts around the country and have determined that using this implant is our best option for monitoring his heart rhythm,” says Birmingham Zoo Director of Animal Health, Dr. Stephanie McCain, DVM, Dipl ACZM. “The sooner we perform this procedure the sooner we get the information we need to best help Oliver, so we have assembled a team to assist with the procedure this week.”
Heart disease is common in great apes, leading to the creation of the Great Ape Heart Project, a team of experts around the country who focus on causes and treatment of heart disease in orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. While Zoo staff is optimistic about the upcoming procedure, there is always a risk with anesthetizing an older animal with underlying heart disease.
Oliver is 37 years old and was born at the San Diego Zoo on June 14, 1980. He is one of the oldest Sumatran orangutans within the US population. He has one offspring, Nairi, who lives at the Birmingham Zoo with Oliver and the Zoo’s resident adult female, Lipz. While orangutans can live into their 50s, females tend to outlive the males.