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Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 3:00pm

Orangutan Ultrasounds

Animal keepers at Zoo Atlanta have trained orangutans to sit still long enough for them to get ultrasounds of their hearts.

It’s part of the national “Great Ape Project” based in Atlanta. Researchers hope to find out why heart problems are the number one killer of orangutans, gorillas and other apes who live in captivity.

Dr. Hayley Murphy, director of veterinary services says before this effort, they would have to sedate an animal before getting an echo-cardiogram, also known as an ultrasound, of its heart.

“ Every time you use anesthesia, one you have the risk of anesthesia, and two the drugs we use can interfere or change the readings that we would get on an echo.”

She says the keepers have become very creative on getting the animals to present their chests, and sit still long enough for the technicians to put on gel and take the ultrasound.

Murphy says the research may also help humans.

“For once humans are helping the apes. We’re applying what we know from human cardiac medicine to apes, instead of the other way round. So that’s really cool I think. And what we learn in the apes will also help humans in the long run, as far as figuring out why the disease is so different.”

Apes suffer from high cholesterol like humans, but they don’t have coronary artery disease as humans do.