Medical Management of Respiratory Disease in Bonobos (Pan paniscus): Workshop Report
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2006
Donald L. Janssen1, DVM, DACZM; Victoria Clyde2, DVM; Linda Lowenstine3, DVM, PhD, DACVP; Karen Killmar1; Patrick Morris1, DVM, DACZM; Bruce Rideout1, DVM, PhD, DACVP; James E. Oosterhuis1, DVM; Meg Sutherland-Smith1, DVM, DACZM; Nadine Lamberski1, DVM, DACZM
1Zoological Society of San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA; 2Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, WI, USA; 3School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA, USA


Beginning in 2005, the Zoological Society of San Diego (ZSSD) Board of Trustees developed Board Advisory Councils encompassing several disciplines important to the mission of the ZSSD. The purpose of these councils is different than the traditional committee structure. The advisory councils generally (1) meet only when needed, (2) are oriented to accomplish a task, (3) are generally single-topic format, (4) include internal and external subject matter experts, (5) lend Trustee-level support to problem solving, and (6) help solve ZSSD problems as well as those of our industry.

Two of these ZSSD councils, the Animal Health and the Living Collections Advisory Councils, combined efforts to address a specific disease problem in an individual species (i.e., respiratory disease in captive bonobos). This joint meeting brought together the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) veterinary and pathology advisors; infectious disease and public health specialists from the San Diego medical community; ZSSD veterinary, pathology, curatorial, keeper, and executive staff; and ZSSD Trustees together in a lecture, discussion, and workshop format. This approach provided a way to put proper attention on this one serious medical issue.

The format and topics of this 2-day workshop included the following: (1) an overview of the disease in humans and bonobos; (2) a review of the morbidity and mortality in captive bonobo populations; (3) a discussion of the diagnostic methodologies available; (4) a discussion of treatment and vaccination options; and (5) a discussion of environmental, husbandry, and management issues. Following the presentation of these topics, the participants broke into these three working groups: (1) diagnostic methods, (2) treatment and vaccination, and (3) prevention through management and husbandry. Each group was supplied a series of questions to address and asked to develop a list of recommendations and actions steps. These were presented in draft form to the entire group at the end of the meeting. The final executive summary findings and recommendations are presented in this abstract.

A detailed document with working group recommendations and action steps together with written proceedings of the meeting are being made available to the zoological community through the bonobo SSP. The recommendations focus on diagnosing, treating, and preventing respiratory disease in bonobos, and all the participants agreed that much more was gained through this process. The recommendations and action steps, when acted upon, should improve overall husbandry and medical care for this species.

Goals of this Joint Advisory Council Meeting

The following were the goals of this joint council meeting as stated at the outset of the meeting.

1.  Understand the nature and significance of severe respiratory disease in captive bonobos.

2.  Compare and contrast the disease syndrome to that in humans.

3.  Develop recommendations that will improve the ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent the disease in captive bonobos at the ZSSD and other AZA facilities.

4.  Develop a set of action plans to address issues not covered at this meeting.

5.  Communicate these recommendations with others responsible for the care of captive bonobos.

6.  Consider how these principles will apply to bonobo reintroduction programs.

Key Findings and Recommendations

Diagnostics, Pathogenesis, and Susceptibility

1.  Identify the spectrum of respiratory pathogens in a population before and during an outbreak. Respiratory pathogens have different predisposition to cause secondary infections and have different response to therapeutic agents. Furthermore, prevention measures rely on the knowledge of the pathogens acting in a population.

2.  Develop and improve predictors and diagnostics for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of the causes of respiratory-related mortality in bonobos.

3.  Clarify the role that avian and human influenza viruses play in bonobo respiratory disease.

4.  Develop antemortem and postmortem diagnostic standards across AZA institutions. Tailor practices to the diagnostic capacities of each holding facility.

5.  Consider performing proactive examinations of individuals from a group affected for collection of definitive diagnostic specimens.

6.  Bank serum samples for later analysis. Serology of the various diseases is most useful when compared over the course of an outbreak.

Prevention—Husbandry Issues

1.  Facilities and training are critical to diagnosing and managing this disease in bonobos. The recommendations available through the SSP suggest facility design standards.

2.  Bonobos are highly social animals, and any medical management plans must take that into consideration.

3.  Infection control measures implemented only after signs appear are probably ineffective.

4.  Develop exposure risk management procedures that are consistently implemented among bonobo facilities.

5.  Implement primate safety best practices for both zoonoses and anthropozoonosis prevention—and improve compliance.

6.  Develop in advance a plan for how to manage husbandry issues during serious group outbreaks.

Prevention—Medical Issues

1.  Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is so prevalent in the human population and so contagious that exposure to bonobos is inevitable.

2.  Pneumococcus vaccine is warranted based on current knowledge. The vaccine has almost eradicated the disease in people, but the disease is still a problem in apes.

3.  The efficacy of the pneumococcus vaccine in non-human primates is unknown and should be investigated.

4.  Influenza vaccination in bonobos is of questionable value but is likely to cause little harm.

5.  There are key behaviors for which bonobos need to be trained in order to facilitate diagnostic and prevention measures (e.g., vaccine administration), treatment, and health monitoring.


1.  RSV monoclonal antibody is expensive and has low benefit. Its use in bonobos would be limited to unusual pediatric situations.

2.  Symptomatic treatment is most likely helpful and is not likely to mask a decline into severe disease.

3.  Identify triggers for antibiotic treatment and first line antibiotics. The recommendations available through the SSP provide guidelines.

4.  A “respiratory failure” model to manage and prevent ARDS-related mortalities is available through the SSP.


The authors thank the following individuals for their contributions to this workshop: Dr. Fredrick Frye, Dr. Michele Ginsberg, Dr. Mark Greenberg, Dr. John Leake, Dr. Joshua Fierer, Dr. Tracy Clippinger, Dr. Geoff Pye, Ms. Michele Stancer, Ms. Kim Livingstone, Ms. Peggy Sexton, Mr. Michael Bates, Ms. Donna Gutekunst-Lundy, Ms. Beth Branning, Ms. Peggy Blessing.


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Donald L. Janssen, DVM, DACZM
Zoological Society of San Diego
San Diego, CA, USA

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