Operation Gorilla

19 Mar 2013 10:14:38.107

PA 86/13

The life of a young male gorilla has been transformed after an operation carried out by a surgeon from The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Dr Sandra Corr joined a team of UK vets on their annual visit to Ape Action Africa in Cameroon. The seven day mission to one of the country’s leading primate sanctuaries was led by Sharon Redrobe, Zoological Director of Twycross Zoo — one of the Vet School’s clinical associates.

Their primary mission this year was to perform follow-up surgery on 10 year old Shufai, who has been living at the sanctuary since he suffered a gunshot wound to his wrist as a baby when poachers opened fire on his mother. But pre-surgery x-rays showed the damage to his wrist had worsened and the vets had to make the difficult decision to amputate his arm above the elbow.

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The operating theatre at the sanctuary is an adapted school classroom with plastic sheeting for walls, so they had to sterilise all their surgical equipment in the UK and take it over in sealed bags to prevent contamination. Stifling temperatures and high humidity made the working environment difficult and the risk of infection during the three hour operation was a major concern.  

Dr Corr, who had to make the decision to amputate the arm, said: “This was a big change to our original plan. We had intended to straighten the arm but we realised this wasn’t going to relieve the pain he was in. Amputating the arm was a very difficult decision to make but we had to do what was right for Shufai. There was initial disappointment but the operation, in very basic conditions, was a real team effort and a great success — spectacularly so.”

Sharon Redrobe said: “Since returning from Cameroon reports from the sanctuary tell me Shufai is healing well from his surgery, and he has even been spotted in the forest chest-beating with one arm. The speed with which he has adapted shows us he hadn’t really been using the arm for months.”

As well as Shufai’s operation the team also carried out health checks and cardiac ultrasounds on several chimpanzees and silverback gorillas.

Dr Corr said: “This was a very special week, and I was really encouraged not only to see Shufai walking the morning after the operation, but actually able to climb, with surprising ease.”  

Twycross Zoo is the World Primate Centre and cares for more than 35 species of primate, many of which are critically endangered in the wild due to poaching and habitat loss from human encroachment. The Zoo takes part in many European and international breeding programmes and currently has over 200 species enrolled in captive breeding programmes — the zoo contribute to conservation in the wild through their Conservation Welfare Fund. The Conservation Welfare Fund has contributed nearly £200,000 since it was created in 2006. It has supported over 40 conservation and welfare projects from many different countries around the world.

Ape Action Africa (www.apeactionafrica.org) works on the front-line of great ape protection, addressing the immediate threats faced by gorillas and chimps in Africa, and work with communities to develop long-term solutions to ensure their survival in the wild.

High-resolution images are available on request. Pictures used in this release are courtesy of Dr Sandra Corr.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Sandra Corr, at The University of Nottingham, at sandra.corr@nottingham.ac.uk; or Natalie Gudger, Twycross Zoo Press Office, on +44 (0)827
883 145, natalie.gudger@twycrosszoo.org
  Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: lindsay.brooke@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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