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Great Ape Heart Project awarded second National Leadership Grant from IMLS

Grant represents the third show of federal support for the effort to target cardiac health in gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos   

Zoo Atlanta has received a 2015 National Leadership Grant for Museums Award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to continue leading the Great Ape Heart Project for the next three years. The $421,000 award represents the second time the Great Ape Heart Project has earned this prestigious federal grant and is the third show of support from IMLS for the world’s first effort to understand, diagnose, and treat a leading killer of great apes in zoos.

“We are honored and proud that IMLS finds the Great Ape Heart Project so meritorious that it has chosen to award Zoo Atlanta with such a highly competitive grant for the second time,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “This effort is truly on the cutting edge of animal health, and it continues to explore new territory that has previously been unknown to animal care professionals anywhere in the world. Now that the project has shown us our own capabilities to understand and work together nationally on the problem of cardiac disease in great apes, we can move forward on improving the health and the lives of great apes living in institutions around the globe.”

The Great Ape Heart Project is the first coordinated clinical approach targeting cardiovascular disease (CVD) across all four non-human great ape taxa: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos. The disease is a primary cause of mortality among great apes living in zoological settings, but until very recently, has been a poorly-understood area of veterinary care. Its examination requires advanced understanding of diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of affected apes, as well as adaptation of techniques already in use in humans and domestic animals.

Zoo Atlanta was chosen to lead the Great Ape Heart Project as part of a 2010 IMLS National Leadership Planning Grant, and the project received its first IMLS National Leadership Grant for Museums in 2012. Earlier this year, the project began beta-testing a multinational database that will allow stakeholders to document, compare, and contrast great ape cardiac data, with a goal of establishing systematic measures for identifying, monitoring, and reporting cases from zoos across North America and in other countries. The database now holds records on more than 450 individuals, living and deceased, from more than 65 institutions.

Hayley Murphy, DVM, Senior Director of Animal Health at Zoo Atlanta, is the Director of the Great Ape Heart Project. Marietta Danforth, PhD, serves as Project and Database Manager. Partners and key collaborators include the Milwaukee County Zoo; the Wisconsin Cardiovascular Group of Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital; and the University of Georgia Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery. Founding partners of the Great Ape Heart Project include the Emerging Diseases Research Group of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

All four great ape taxa are endangered or critically endangered in the wild. Great apes are a center of excellence for Zoo Atlanta, which is home to the nation’s largest collections of gorillas and orangutans. In 2009, the Zoo became the first zoological institution in the world to obtain voluntary blood pressure readings from a gorilla. Voluntary procedures such as blood pressure checks and cardiac ultrasounds reduce the frequency of anesthetic events while providing cardiovascular data that is not influenced by anesthetic drugs, thus providing unique and accurate diagnostic procedures that are safer for the apes in human care.

To learn more about the Great Ape Heart Project headquartered at Zoo Atlanta, visit For more on IMLS, visit

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services 
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Their mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Their grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter.

Uniquely Detroit: Gorilla heart ultrasounds at the Detroit Zoo | Live in the D – Home

Check out what these researchers at the Detroit Zoo are doing with gorillas.

via Uniquely Detroit: Gorilla heart exams.

Heart monitors for chimps at Lincoln Park Zoo

Go to the BBC website to watch video of how Lincoln Park Zoo monitors their chimps’ hearts:


Steve Leonard finds out how vets in Chicago are implanting human heart monitors in chimpanzees. It may help save them from developing heart disease.

You can also read more on Lincoln Park Zoo’s website:

Detroit Zoo in the News: How does zoo test an ape’s heart? Very patiently

How does zoo test an ape’s heart? Very patiently.

Veterinarians persuade the Detroit Zoo’s gorillas to undergo heart scans as part of the national Great Ape Heart Project.

Omaha Study Published!

Congratulations to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo veterinarian Julie Napier and her colleagues on the publication of their article:  “Evaluating echocardiogram and indirect blood pressure results in male western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) during three phases of an anesthetic protocol” in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine.  The article is available now online at:

ABSTRACT: Until the majority of the great ape population is trained for conscious cardiac evaluations, most individuals will require general anesthesia to perform echocardiograms. Within the veterinary community, concern exists that certain anesthetic protocols may exacerbate or artificially induce signs of cardiac disease. Because of potential cardiovascular effects, medetomidine has generally been used cautiously in patients with cardiac disease. The combination of ketamine and medetomidine is frequently used by many institutions because of its reversibility. To date, no published studies have obtained physiologic or echocardiographic parameters comparing different anesthetic protocols. In this study, with the use of seven adult male gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) with and without cardiac disease, echocardiographic and indirect blood pressure data during three phases of an anesthetic protocol were collected. The initial echocardiographic study was completed with ketamine/medetomidine alone (5–7 mg/kg, i.m., and 0.05–0.07 mg/kg, i.m., respectively); the second study was completed after the addition of sevoflurane inhalant anesthesia to this procedure; and the third study was completed after reversal of medetomidine by administration of atipamezole (5:1 with the medetomidine dose given at induction). Without exception, ejection fractions were 15–25% lower under anesthesia with medetomidine as compared to ejection fractions after administration of atipamezole. Indirect blood pressures were higher on ketamine/medetomidine, lower with addition of sevoflurane, and considerably lower after administration of atipamezole.

Zoo Atlanta Gorilla Cardiac Ultrasound Training Video

Zoo Atlanta houses the largest gorilla collection in the United States with 22 gorillas, of which 18 individuals are trained for voluntary cardiac ultrasounds. Watch as keepers and our volunteer cardiac sonographer train for this procedure. Cardiac ultrasound training is made possible through partnership with sonographers from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Cardiac exam forms are submitted to the international database of The Great Ape Heart Project. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of mortality among great apes living in zoological settings. The Great Ape Heart Project, headquartered at Zoo Atlanta, seeks to understand, diagnose, and treat cardiac disease across all four non-human great ape taxa (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos).

This video is intended as a training tool for other institutions; please use the time stamp links for referencing specific information.

39s — Zoo Atlanta training program for awake cardiac ultrasounds

4:26 — How Zoo Atlanta collects cardiac exam information

5:19 — How to submit exams to the Great Ape Heart Project

7:13 — Voluntary cardiac ultrasound from start to finish

Happy New Year from the GAHP!

The GAHP wishes everyone a healthy and happy 2014!  Download our 2014 calendar here: GAHP2014 Calendar (PDF).  This year’s “calendar-girl” is bonobo Mary Rose from the Columbus Zoo (photo credit: Max Block).

Tough Cuff at AAZV

If you are interested in seeing the Tough Cuff in person and want to learn more about ordering one for your zoo, Bruce Harshe from Medical Engineering and Dev. Co will be at booth 20 at the upcoming American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) meeting in Salt Lake City.

Human heart disease recently found in chimpanzees

Click here for the original post: Human heart disease recently found in chimpanzees.

To access a pdf of the publication:

 IMAGE: This image shows researcher Lydia Tong.

Click here for more information. 

Los Angeles — While in the past century there have been several documented examples of young, healthy athletes who have died suddenly of heart disease during competitive sporting events, a new study finds that this problem also extends to chimpanzees. According to an article published today in the SAGE journal Veterinary Pathology, Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC), a human heart disease that causes sudden cardiac death in teenagers and young adults (particularly healthy athletes), has now been identified in chimpanzees.

“It is the first description of this condition in a primate species apart from humans,” stated primary author of the study Dr. Lydia Tong. “The circumstances of these two cases in chimpanzees mirror the common presentation of the condition in humans. The two half-brother chimps were teenagers apparently at their peak health (16 and 17 years old), and one of the chimp died suddenly during physical exertion.”

The chimpanzees had been living at a UK zoo when the deaths occurred in 2004 and 2008, and Professor Mary Sheppard, a specialist in Human Sudden Cardiac Death, was part of the team that helped perform the autopsies. Professor Sheppard examined the hearts as she would normally do for a young person who had died in similar circumstances. The specialist found that the changes in these hearts were nearly identical to those examined in humans.

“The big question is — what causes the disease in chimpanzees, and what are the common factors with human disease?” Dr. Tong stated. “In humans we know that there is a genetic component in about 50% of cases but the other factors are not well understood. It has been theorized that viral exposure, levels of exercise, and dietary variables may influence development of the condition in humans. More work needs to be done to determine if the same genetic changes may be occurring in affected chimpanzees, and whether other influences at play.”

Dr. Tong discussed the implications of this new finding for future research, “The bottom line is that this finding and similar future research will assist us in understanding and managing this disease of young otherwise healthy chimps, a tremendously important and endangered species. Furthermore, as the closest relative to the human, future research has the potential to help us understand the same disease in humans.”


To read an embargoed copy of the full article entitled “Fatal Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy in 2 Related Subadult Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)” published in Veterinary Pathology, please email

Veterinary Pathology (VET) is the premier international publication of basic and applied research involving domestic, laboratory, wildlife, marine and zoo animals, and poultry. Bridging the divide between natural and experimental diseases, the journal details the diagnostic investigations of diseases of animals; reports experimental studies on mechanisms of specific processes; provides unique insights into animal models of human disease; and presents studies on environmental and pharmaceutical hazards. This journal is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

SAGE is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. Since 1965, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a wide range of subject areas including business, humanities, social sciences, and science, technology, and medicine. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC.


In the past year or so, several zoos have approached the Great Ape Heart Project to ask about ordering a “Tough Cuff” through the company that Zoo Atlanta uses.  Our website has a page dedicated to information about the Tough Cuff and how Zoo Atlanta uses it to collect blood pressure measurements voluntarily from trained adult male gorillas:

The Tough Cuff is made of a durable (but expensive) polycarbonate, which is only sold in certain quantities.  In addition to the expensive material, the design and measurements are particularly calibrated to work with the very large arms of adult male gorillas (33-45cm in diameter).  Therefore, manufacturing the Tough Cuff can be very costly between purchasing the materials and calibrating the machinery for this very specialized piece.  When multiple orders are made at the same time, the manufacturer only has to set up his machinery once, which means that the labor costs can be split between each zoo ordering the device.  In 2012, the GAHP coordinated an order for 20 institutions across the country.  We are now coordinating a second group-order that will likely be made towards the end of September.

The current estimate for the Tough Cuff is around $550, with this price going down slightly as more institutions order.  This does not include a blood pressure cuff and monitoring device, nor the mesh cage sleeve that encases the Tough Cuff.  The Tough Cuff is the plastic piece that holds the blood pressure cuff in place within a mesh sleeve.

Feel free to let colleagues know about this next order if you think they might be interested.  Please send any questions to

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