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Cleveland Metroparks Zoo performs cardiac ultrasounds on Orangutans

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A cardiologist from Michigan teamed with representatives from the Detroit Zoo as well as the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Zoological Programs staff to perform cardiac ultrasounds and other health checks on two of the Cleveland Metreopark Zoo’s Bornean orangutans.

The examinations are part of what is known as the Great Ape Heart Project which is a nationwide effort among various zoos to collect data on heart disease that affects four species of great apes. The results of the study will help veterinarians to better understand ways of treating heart conditions of animals in their care.

The cardiologist, Dr. Ilana Kutinsky is out of the William Beaumont Hospital located in Royal Oak, Michigan and is no stranger to Cleveland. In 2011 she performed similar exams on the Zoo’s two gorillas. As a result, the animals were put on low starch/high fiber diets as well as heart medications that include 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."

While it is not known at this time if the orangutans actually are suffering from heart disease at this time, the data collected will reveal any problems and help in the management decisions as to the care of the animals. In the event there is no health problems the information will help establish baselines for use in 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 Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus) are considered endangered and are found primarily in the forests of Borneo. Although their legs are short and weak, they make up for it with their powerful arms that can spread as wide as 8.25 feet. Adults have been known to grow up to 5.5 feet or more in height and weight up to over 300 pounds.

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