Baby gorilla poses challenge for university vets and students

09 Nov 2011 14:37:49.620

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Experts and students from The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science have been involved in the fight to save the life of little Okanda, a six month old baby gorilla who had to be separated from his mother after falling ill.

Okanda, born at Twycross Zoo, started to lose weight and became very weak after his mother’s milk dried up.  Mum, Ozala, had to be anesthetised before vets could go to his aid. Okanda was initially put on a drip and had a feeding tube fitted and is now making a good recovery. The Twycross Zoo vet Sarah Chapman and Vet School zoo vet Sharon Redrobe worked side by side to save the little gorilla.

The challenge now is to make sure that Okanda doesn’t become humanised by the experience and can be returned to his family. But he’s got a few more hurdles to overcome. Having spent nearly two weeks nursing him back to health vets and keepers from Twycross Zoo are going to have to teach Okanda to bottle feed himself if he is to continue to make good progress.

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Sharon Redrobe, a Specialist in Wildlife, Zoo and Exotic Animal Medicine at the University, said: “If this had happened in the wild Okanda would have died. We were worried that Okanda would become stressed after being separated from his mum. But he has coped very well and after a worrying 10 days he is stable and feeding quite well. However, he is going to be dependent on milk for another six months to a year so before we return him to the gorilla family here at Twycross he is going to have to learn how to feed himself.”

All final year students at The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science spend two weeks on placement at Twycross so students Gemma Carman, Christopher Warren and Anna Briggs, who is from Barnsley in South Yorkshire, got some remarkable hands on training when Okanda and Ozala were anaesthetised and treated at the zoo.

Gemma, who is from Rugby in Warwickshire, said: “Along with my colleagues I was lucky enough to be involved in the care of the ill baby gorilla Okanda whilst on rotation at Twycross Zoo. The opportunity is one I shall probably never have again and it is something I will always remember. The staff at Tywcross made every effort to include us in all aspects of his care and I really appreciate their dedication and professionalism to all the animals in their care.”

Chris, from Macclesfield in Cheshire, said: “I was able to help anaesthetise Okanda, to give him a full health check with the vets. It was amazing to see how human like he was and I felt very privileged to be involved with a procedure on such a rare species. I felt under pressure as I knew how important and rare a baby gorilla is but the staff were great. It's something I will never forget.”

Sharon Redrobe, who holds the position of Life Science Director at Twycross Zoo and is a Clinical Associate Professor at the vet school, is also the Vet Advisor for the gorilla European Endangered Species Breeding Programme which oversees zoo gorilla breeding across Europe. She said: “The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has put gorillas on their critically endangered list meaning that if we aren’t careful there won’t be any gorillas left on the planet within 10 years. So the work done here at Twycross is important to g orilla survival and little Okanda has a part to play in that.”

Sarah Chapman is now living with Okanda at an undisclosed location but is only communicating with the infant through grunts. She is mimicking the sounds and actions of a primate so not to expose him to human influence.

The picture from left to right:

Sharon Redrobe (The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary and Medical Sciences), Sarah Chapman (Head of Veterinary Services at Twycross Zoo), Gemma Carman (University of Nottingham vet student). A higher resolution photograph is available on request.

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Story credits

More information is available from Lorraine Ariano, Media manager at Twycross Zoo, on +44 (0) 844 474 1777,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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