The Great Ape Heart Project: An IMLS-Funded Initiative to Address Heart Disease in Captive Great Apes
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2011
Hayley Murphy1, DVM; Rita McManamon2, DVM; Linda Lowenstine3, DVM, PhD, DACVP; Patricia Dennis4, DVM, PhD, DACZM; Marietta Dindo1, PhD
1Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, USA; 2College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA; 3School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis CA, USA; 4Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland, OH, USA


Great apes (gorillas [Gorilla gorilla], orangutans [Pongo pygmaeus, P. abelli], chimpanzees [Pan troglodytes], and bonobos [Pan paniscus]) are charismatic species that draw the public to visit zoos. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been identified as a major cause of death in great apes; however, underlying causes are poorly understood.1-5 Likewise there is incomplete understanding of how to diagnose, treat, and monitor affected apes and how to adapt techniques used to address heart disease in humans and domestic animals to apes. The goal of the Great Ape Heart Project (GAHP) is to design an innovative and coordinated national program to investigate ape CVD and establish uniform, state-of-the-art, cardiac diagnosis, treatment, and prevention strategies for great ape CVD. In order to accomplish this goal, an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Collaborative Planning Grant (CPG) was obtained with the primary goal of ensuring adequate funding to bring together a targeted audience to participate in active planning and breakout sessions to establish specific action plans. The partners on the grant are Zoo Atlanta; Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; University of California Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine; and University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine, Emerging Diseases Research Group.

Specific aims of the grant are:

1.  Hire a full-time coordinator (based at Zoo Atlanta) to assist partners by facilitating communication, handling routine inquiries for resources or referral to subject matter experts (SMEs), plan and implement CPG-funded meetings, assist in preparation of a white paper, and future grant applications.

2.  Convene a workshop in Atlanta to bring together Species Survival Plan (SSP) veterinary advisors and coordinators, stakeholders, collaborators, and SMEs in ape CVD.

3.  Develop a comprehensive strategy to address ape CVD, coordinated within and between the ape species, SSP institutions, and collaborators.

4.  Produce a white paper on ape CVD to summarize current diagnostic procedures, treatment, and monitoring; outline a strategy/database for sharing case information between institutions; and outline a research plan to identify causes, new tests, and treatments for ape heart disease to minimize or prevent this problem. White paper recommendations will be disseminated through presentations, journal publications, electronic media, and public relations efforts to inform zoo, veterinary and other professionals, and the lay public.

5.  Prepare and submit a National Leadership Project grant proposal (and/or other proposals) for funding to address targeted components of ape CVD.

This innovative and forward-thinking effort is bringing together essential stakeholders from a wide range of disciplines and communities, to develop a timely and coordinated plan to address a critical health need for the great apes. The workshop, white paper, and grant applications resulting from this collaborative planning grant will serve as a national model for investigations addressing health issues in other species, thus improving standards of care in zoological collections.

Literature Cited

1.  Backues K, Gamble K. Chimpanzee Veterinary Advisor Report. 2008. (VIN editor: Link was not accessible as of December 9, 2020.)

2.  Lammey ML, Lee DR, Ely JJ, Sleeper MM. Sudden cardiac death in 13 captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). J Med Primatol. 2008;37(Suppl. 1):39–43.

3.  Meehan TP, Lowenstine LJ. Causes of mortality in captive lowland gorillas: a survey of the SSP population. In: Proceedings from the American Association Zoo Veterinarians. 1994:216–218.

4.  Schulman FY, Farb A, Virmani R, Montali RJ. Fibrosing cardiomyopathy in captive western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in the United States: a retrospective study. J Zoo Wildl Med. 1995;26(1):43–51.

5.  Varki N, Anderson D, Herndon JG, Pham T, Gregg CJ, Cheriyan M, et al. Heart disease is common in humans and chimpanzees but is caused by different pathological processes. Evol Appl. 2009;2(1):101–112.

Speaker Information
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Hayley Murphy, DVM
Zoo Atlanta
Atlanta, GA, USA

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