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Seeing a gorilla ultrasound

Hello everyone! My name is Martie, and I am a seasonal keeper on the Primate Care Team. During my time here, I have had the privilege to learn and witness so much, but one of the most amazing things I’ve gotten to see are the ultrasounds the animal care team is able to perform on the gorillas. That experience will stick with me forever, and I wanted to share it with you all! 

First, let me give you a little background on the training we do here at the Zoo. Participation is always voluntary, and animals may choose not to participate if they do not want to. Also, we use positive reinforcement, which means when they choose to participate and present a requested behavior, they get reinforced – normally with a yummy food item! We never use anything negative, meaning we never punish animals for not participating or getting something wrong. If an animal ever gets frustrated, we switch back to asking for things they know and are good at, because training is meant to be an engaging and enjoyable activity for the animals!

Training is not only a great way to bond with animals, stimulate their minds, and get their bodies moving, but it also helps benefit their health and can be used to help them participate in their own care. They can present different body parts so we can check on them; they can present their chests so we can perform cardiac ultrasounds to monitor their heart health; and they can present their shoulders and forearms for injections and voluntary blood draws – just to name a few examples! We also train all of the female gorillas to present their stomachs against the mesh, and to hold that position while an animal care team member uses an ultrasound probe and gel against their stomach – this will allow us to see a fetus if they ever become pregnant. They are introduced to the gel and the probe long before they are ever pregnant to allow them to get used to the objects – the gel definitely takes getting used to! Practicing and training these behaviors means that when the time comes for a flu shot or a blood draw or an ultrasound, the animals know what to expect and that a reinforcer is sure to follow, alleviating stress for both the animal and the human caregiver.

About a month ago, Zoo Atlanta announced that one of the female western lowland gorillas, Lulu, is pregnant! Lulu is the daughter of the late Willie B., and she lives with Taz in the family group. Lulu’s animal care team, along with vet team members, have been performing weekly ultrasounds on her to monitor the health of both Lulu and the baby. The first one I saw was one of the most incredible things – to see that little peanut moving and grooving around in there was unforgettable. It also amazed me how calm Lulu was the whole time. She knew what to expect and enjoyed getting her rewards! We were also able to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, and everyone just went silent and you could feel the magic of the moment in the room. I will never forget that experience!

If you would like to see a clip of the same ultrasound I saw, please visit Zoo Atlanta on Facebook or Instagram, where there is a short video! I promise you won’t regret it.
Martie S.
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

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