Zoo Atlanta orangutan becomes first to participate in awake cardiac ultrasound
Thursday, February 2, 2012

Satu sets new standards for monitoring cardiac health

ATLANTA – February 02, 2012 ― Satu, an 8-year-old male Bornean orangutan at Zoo Atlanta, recently became the first member of his species to participate in an awake cardiac ultrasound. The procedure was made possible through partnership with sonographers from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The ultrasound is the result of training, hard work and patience on the part of Zoo Atlanta animal care professionals, veterinarians and Satu himself. Primate Keeper Patti Frazier, Satu’s primary trainer, built on the youngster’s already impressive training repertoire to encourage consistent behaviors that would enable his voluntary participation in the procedure.

“We communicate a great deal to our visitors about the bonds of mutual trust that are formed between our great apes and their caregivers, but this ultrasound is an example of why these training advancements matter,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services. “This is a very encouraging step forward in our ability to monitor our apes’ heart health.” 

Heart health might not seem to be a concern in an individual as young as Satu, but could prove critical when he reaches adulthood. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of mortality among great apes living in zoological settings. The Great Ape Heart Project, headquartered at Zoo Atlanta, seeks to understand, diagnose, and treat cardiac disease across all four non-human great ape taxa (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos). Murphy serves as the project’s Principal Investigator. Organizing partners include the Emerging Diseases Research Group of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine; the UC Davis College of Veterinary Medicine; and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

Following closely on the heels of Satu’s success, Primate Keeper Lynn Yakubinis has since trained another orangutan, 34-year-old male Chantek, to participate in awake cardiac ultrasounds. Animal care professionals and veterinarians plan to introduce additional orangutans to the procedure in the future.

Zoo Atlanta is home to the nation’s largest zoological collection of orangutans, with 13 individuals, in addition to housing the largest collection of western lowland gorillas in North America, with 22.