Twycross Zoo veterinarians probe ape heart disease

As part of an international research project into ape heart disease, vets here at Twycross Zoo are the first to have recorded an electrocardiogram (ECG) trace in a chimpanzee without the need for general anaesthesia.

All four species of great ape, which includes chimpanzees, are endangered in the wild and cardiac disease among captive populations presents a significant threat to the long-term survival of these primates.

Sarah Chapman, our Head of Veterinary Services explains: “Ape heart disease is a priority research area in international zoos.  It is tragic when any ape dies of heart disease, but it also represents a significant loss to the species as a whole because they are endangered in the wild.”

We are a World Primate Centre and the only zoo in the UK to house all four species of great ape. Our vets frequently conduct routine health checks of our apes, including chest radiographs, blood pressure readings, cardiac ultrasounds and ECGs.  However, general anaesthesia can affect the results.

One of our twenty-five chimpanzees has been successfully trained to remain still long enough to allow an ECG trace to be recorded using long, specially-designed probes.  Vet Sarah added: “Diagnostic tests help us to investigate the health of our animals and prevent heart disease.  We are proud that we have found a new way of checking one of our chimps and we are working with our other chimps to achieve this with them too.”

Twycross Zoo chimpanzee Choppers presents her chest to veterinary staff so they can listen to her heart_credit Twycross Zoo

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