The KU School of Medicine is helping the Sedgwick County Zoo find out what might be ailing their 28-year-old gorilla, Billy.
Billy has had gastrointestinal issues for two years and a professor at the school has offered to help do an upper and lower gastrointestinal exam to rule out any medical conditions.
Gastroenterology professor Dr. Nathan Tofteland (pictured) agreed to do the exam.
“His condition worsens when there have been changes in his environment or after a thunderstorm,” says Danielle
Decker, senior keeper of primates at SCZ. “We suspect it’s stress-related, but we still need to rule out any
Billy has suffered from intermittent chronic diarrhea for the past two years, with no relief from various medicines
or diet changes. Previous tests – radiographs, parasitology, cultures – all came back negative and ruled out any
possible causes of the condition. Animal care staff has charted his diet consumption, general disposition, shifting
compliance, and fecal consistency but haven’t seen any significant statistical correlations.
The next step in determining the cause of Billy’s diarrhea was an endoscopic procedure to view the inside of his
gastrointestinal tract. The procedure was made possible just recently by a donation from Jack and Bernice Pearson,
which the Oliver Animal Hospital used to purchase an endoscope. The Pearsons gave to SCZ in memory of their late
daughter Liz, who dedicated her life to caring for orphaned gorillas in Africa.
“Zoo vets are often like general practitioners,” says Dr. Heather Arens, a veterinarian at SCZ. “We know how to care
for everything in the Zoo from tree frogs to elephants. So we’re lucky that we have such a supportive community
to call upon when there’s a need for a specialized procedure.”
Because great apes are primates, their anatomy is very similar to the human patients that a medical doctor sees on
a daily basis.
“KU School of Medicine-Wichita is dedicated to caring for the health of Kansas,” says Dr. Tofteland. “So this was a
great opportunity for me to use my skills to provide services to an even broader community of Kansans.”
Following the procedure, Billy is doing well and will be back on the indoor habitat today with his brother, Tommy.
Results from the procedure should be available in a couple of weeks.
(Billy’s team pictured on exam day)