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How do you give a gorilla a physical?

Hi everyone! My name is Hayley, a Keeper II on the Gorilla Care Team at Zoo Atlanta. I just started in December, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with all 20 of the gorillas here at the Zoo. It is amazing to work with each of the gorillas daily to get to know all their different personalities and quirks. At Zoo Atlanta, we strive to give the animals the best possible quality of care we can. One of the ways we do this is by monitoring their health and wellness by performing preventive health exams for each of the animals. This past week, the our team has been busy with health exams for two of the gorillas from Taz’s family group.

Now, you might wonder how these exams are done. We can’t exactly just walk a gorilla into the vet hospital the way you might with your dog at home. A lot of preparation goes into getting ready for these exams to ensure they go as safely and smoothly as possible. One of the first steps of this preparation is getting the gorillas comfortable with being temporarily separated from their group members. With gorillas being such social animals, this sometimes proves be one of the more difficult challenges with exam prep. Next, the gorillas are trained to present their shoulders up to the mesh and voluntarily receive an injection – this also helps around flu season when they all receive their flu shots too! All the training that we do with our gorillas is through positive reinforcement training and is 100% voluntary.

Once the gorillas are in the vet hospital (which is conveniently attached to the gorilla building), several exams are done to ensure the apes are in tip-top shape. At Zoo Atlanta, we have a wonderful team of veterinarians and vet technicians who help us with these preventive health exams. Along with our team of vets, we also bring in several other individuals such as anesthesiologists, dentists and ultrasound sonographers. The procedure includes a full body physical, dental exams, X-rays, ultrasounds (both abdominal and cardiac) and finally, routine vaccines such as rabies and tetanus.

After the gorillas receive their clean bill of health, we bring them back down into their indoor night area and set them up in a comfortable area for recovery. Both veterinary and care team members stay near the gorilla until we see signs that he or she is recovering well as the anesthesia wears off. Once this happens, we are able to put them back with their group members! 

As you can see, it really does take a village to perform a gorilla exam! A lot of planning needs to go into it so that the procedure goes smoothly, and I am lucky enough to work on such an amazing care team that makes pulling off these exams look easy! If you have any other questions about these preventive health exams, feel free to ask one of us during a Keeper Talk next time you’re at Zoo Atlanta. We look forward to seeing you!
Hayley T.
Keeper II, Primates

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