Zuri's New Life

First-person report by Della Garell, DVM, our electronic vet, exclusively at CBS.com




Zuri, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's female western lowland gorilla, had a rough start in life.

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Born by C-section on New Year's Eve 1996, she started to suffer serious seizures when she was just 8 months old. But, until recently, she had grown into a perfectly normal, happy gorilla.

When Zuri had three seizures in a cluster of a few days, we ruled out several possible diseases with laboratory work that had normal results.

With the generous help of our pediatric neurologist, Dr. Robin Morgan, and a very patient technician, we were able to get an EEG (electro-encephalogram) on Zuri.

It is no small feat to attach a dozen electrodes to a fussy gorilla's head without her knocking them off, and then encourage her to fall naturally asleep. With persistence, we were successful.

The results of the test were normal. In fact, the tracings looked identical to those of an 8-month old human.

The next step was a spinal tap, under anesthesia, to evaluate her cerebrospinal fluid. Results from those tests were mildly abnormal (for a human patient), but did not pinpoint a cause for her seizures.
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With no conclusive results, we explored the possibility of a MRI exam of her brain. Of course, the zoo does not own such an expensive machine. So radiologist Dr. Kathy Davis of PenRad and the local hospital (Penrose Hospital) donated the use of their MRI facility.

Again, Zuri needed to be sedated to lie still for the exam. The results of the MRI were also completely normal. There was no sign of any palsy or hypoxia from her difficult birth. Dr. Davis commented that, except for her jaw and tooth structure, Zuri's MRI looked just like a human brain.

At this point, with no indication of any abnormalities, the medical team considered idiopathic epilepsy as her diagnosis. This means epilepsy of unknown origin. It is the most common form of epilepsy in humans.

Zuri then had another cluster of seizures. We rushed her to the neurologist hoping to catch a seizure on an EEG tracing. This time, she was quite irritable, but did eventually fall asleep in my arms and actually had a small seizure, which we captured on the EEG. It looked like idiopathic epilepsy. With her two clusters of seizures, we decided to treat Zuri with an oral anti-seizure medication, Phenobarbital. It comes in a cherry-flavored syrup tht she takes readily from her keepers twice daily.

At this time, Zuri's seizures are well controlled, and she's eating well and getting good at knuckle walking. It's possible that this may be a "childhood" disorder, and she may outgrow it as many human patients do. We all hope that this is the problem, but only time will tell.

The next step for Zuri, however, is quite exciting. The Toronto Zoo has a good troop of gorillas with a female that loves to "adopt" orphan infants. It is important for Zuri to become part of a gorilla family so that she can behave as a gorilla would and perhaps mate and rear her own offspring. To this end, Zuri left the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and went to become part of the gorilla family at the Toronto Zoo.

The zoo veterinarians up there were fully updated on her condition and are taking great care of her.

We'll miss little Zuri here at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, but we've always done what's best for her medically and now we can do the best possible thing for her normal social development. Good luck, Zuri!

©1998 By Dr. Della Garell
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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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