What is a “blood sleeve” and why do we use it?

A “blood sleeve” is a piece of equipment used to train for and collect blood samples from non-anesthetized (“awake”) apes. Like in humans, blood samples can be collected in order to run diagnostic tests, which can be very useful for health assessments. The insertion of a needle into a vein to collect blood is referred to as “venipuncture”. In most zoological settings, venipuncture on awake animals can be a significant challenge, but one that is worth the effort. Positive reinforcement training is a useful tool in veterinary medicine as it allows us to monitor an animal’s health while reducing the number of anesthetized events. In the case of collecting blood samples in great apes, training for venipuncture has multiple benefits when compared to venipuncture only accomplished when animals are anesthetized, including:

  1. Less stress than an anesthetic event
  2. Not as time and resource intensive for keepers and veterinary staff
  3. Avoids the risks associated with anesthetizing geriatric apes or apes with known heart disease
  4. Allows for more frequent sampling
  5. May eliminate the effects of anesthesics on certain types of blood test results (e.g. insulin values)

How can I build a blood sleeve?

With a blood sleeve device, an ape can extend his or her arm out towards a human trainer in a way that protects the trainer from being grabbed, while also providing an ideal access point for venipuncture. The goal is to have a safe as possible working environment for both the ape and the trainer. With this in mind, you will want to design and construct a blood sleeve that does not leave much wiggle room once the ape’s arm is inserted.

Here is an example of a gorilla blood sleeve that is used at Zoo Atlanta. These measurements are based on the arm sizes of adult male and female gorillas. For younger gorillas, or different ape species, you will need a smaller sized blood sleeve.

Zoo Atlanta’s Blood Sleeve Design Protocol (PDF)

Zoo Atlanta’s Venipuncture Training Protocol (PDF)

Cameron Park Zoo’s Blood Draw Training Paper (PDF)


Training video links:

Zoo Atlanta video:

Auckland Zoo:


The Orangutan SSP maintains a catalogue of blood sleeve photos at various zoos: