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Orangutans received cardiac ultrasounds at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

5/28/2014, 5:10 p.m.

A visiting cardiologist from Michigan and a team of representatives from the Detroit Zoo helped Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's Zoological Programs staff perform cardiac ultrasounds and other health checks on two of the Zoo's Bornean orangutans today.

The exams are part of the Great Ape Heart Project, a nationwide effort among zoos to collect data on heart disease in the four species of great apes so that zoo veterinarians can better understand and treat heart conditions in the animals under their care.

Dr. Ilana Kutinsky of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan is no stranger to Cleveland. She performed a similar exam on the Zoo's two gorillas in 2011. The Zoo's gorillas were first diagnosed with heart disease in 2008. Both gorillas have been on low starch/high fiber diets and on heart medication, including beta blockers.

"Two of our orangutans, Tiram and Kitra, were examined by Dr. Kutinsky," said Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Epidemiologist Dr. Pam Dennis. "They received cardiac ultrasounds, blood work and other exams. The female, Kitra, also received a birth control implant."

The Zoo's veterinarians don't know for sure if either orangutan has heart disease, but information on healthy animals is important as well, to help establish baselines for the nationwide database.

"We won't have any answers on the heart health of our animals until we get the test results back," said Zoo General Curator Andi Kornak. "But if it turns out one or both of them need to begin treatment, it's something we're familiar with here, since both of our gorillas have heart disease and have been undergoing treatment through diet and medication for the last several years."

The information acquired from today's exams will be used to make health management decisions for the Zoo's orangutans and will be contributed to the nationwide database.

Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus) are endangered and found in primary forests of Borneo. Adult males can grow up to 5.5 feet and can weigh up to 317 pounds. Their legs are relatively short and weak, while their arms are powerful with a spread of approximately 8.25 feet.