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Birmingham Zoo Male Orangutan Receives First Ever Cardiac Monitor Implant in Orangutans

Oliver, the 37 year old male Sumatran orangutan at the Birmingham Zoo, underwent a successful procedure last week to further assess a heart arrhythmia and to place a remote cardiac monitoring device under his skin. This is the first time this procedure has been performed in an orangutan.

Diagnosed first with heart disease in 2015, Oliver has been on medication the last two years.  During a recent routine cardiac ultrasound, he was noted to have an irregular heartbeat. To determine if these irregular beats were a significant problem for Oliver, the Zoo’s veterinarians needed further information, and contacted the Great Ape Heart Project (GAHP) based at Zoo Atlanta to assist with the placement of an insertable loop recorder (ILR). An ILR is a small insertable device that continuously monitors heart electrical signals and records them. ILRs are routinely used in people and the GAHP has experience placing these devices in chimpanzees and gorillas. Oliver was the first orangutan to have this device placed for cardiac monitoring. This device allows the Veterinary Staff to remotely monitor Oliver for an arrhythmia through a Blue-tooth connection.

Last week, Oliver was anesthetized by the Zoo’s veterinarians for the exam and procedure. Bobbie Boyd, RN, RDMS, RDCS, ultrasound advisor for the GAHP, performed a complete echocardiographic examination. Dr. Yung Lau, MD, a pediatric cardiologist working with both the University of Alabama and Children’s of Alabama, attended the procedure, and recommended small changes to Oliver’s cardiac medications based on the evaluation, but overall Oliver’s cardiac function is good. Dr. Ilana Kutinsky, MD, FACC, cardiac advisor for the GAHP, placed the implant under Oliver’s skin over the left side of his chest. The ILR is smaller than a AAA-battery, and placement required a small incision in his skin.

Dr. Yung Lau, has assisted the Zoo with cardiac evaluations in apes in the past, and coordinated the donation of the ILR from the manufacturer, Medtronic. Jennifer Poirier, sales representative for Medtronic, brought the device to the procedure and activated it after placement to ensure it was functioning properly. Use of the ILR over the next few years will enable the zoo’s veterinarian to fully monitor another aspect of Oliver’s health.

“The success of this procedure was due to a collaboration between multiple individuals and organizations” says Stephanie McCain, DVM, Dipl ACZM, Director of Animal Health for the Birmingham Zoo. “We could not have done this without the help of all of these people and the Great Ape Heart Project.”

Oliver 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.