Cardiac disease is a major cause of death for adult gorillas in AZA institutions. In November 2006 a workshop including physicians, veterinarians, pathologists, and keepers was held to review what is known about gorilla cardiac health, as well as to discuss how to address gorilla health issues. This workshop marked the beginning of the Gorilla Health Project, an initiative to improve our understanding of gorilla health and ways to manage and prevent disease in this species. The meeting identified a critical first step in understanding disease issues of captive gorillas–the formation of a comprehensive database incorporating information from individual gorillas’ medical, nutrition, and husbandry records. This database is essential for the identification of risk factors associated with cardiac disease and other disease syndromes seen in the captive population. Compiling data on the health and husbandry of captive gorillas will increase our current understanding of the health issues of the captive population, and provide a means to examine disease trends over time. This database will provide the foundation for future prospective studies focusing on the etiology of disease syndromes, improved treatment protocols, and effective means of preventing disease in the captive population.
In order to support this effort, a new structure was proposed for the veterinary advisory role within the SSP. The new structure will consist of a team of three veterinary advisors along with four regional coordinators. This structure is intended to improve the collection and dissemination of health information within the Gorilla SSP population.