The Virtual Ape Project: More Than a Source of Anatomy for Veterinarians, Anthropologists and Primatologists
The concept of the “frozen zoo” or the preservation of zoo animals post-mortem as museum specimens is widely recognized and its importance for science, conservation and teaching unquestioned. Here we present a new concept of collecting and preserving data of valuable species, the virtual ape project at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. The aim is to save three-dimensional digital whole body images of dead large primates, ideally before being subjected to post-mortem examination. The project is coordinated by the Anthropological Institute and involves local zoo veterinarians, forensic medicine and diagnostic imaging specialists. Data is collected by combined computed tomographic and magnetic resonance imaging techniques, with the animal in an artifact-free body bag, to keep the biohazard risks to a minimum. For data acquisition, standard protocols for humans such as for virtual dissection (e.g.,Virtopsy) are applied. To date, five Sumatran orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus abelii), five western lowland gorillas (Gorilla g. gorilla), and 11 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have been evaluated. Of these, 10 were males, 11 females, 15 juveniles, six adults; four were fresh specimens and 17 were formalin-fixed or frozen specimens. The data is used in a multitude of areas, including comparative anatomy and evolution of primates.1 The collected information increases our knowledge of large primate anatomy, an asset for zoological medicine clinicians. It can also improve the diagnostic quality of the post-mortem examination. In the future, the establishment of a network of digital data would be desirable, which the University of Zurich would volunteer to host.
1. Morimoto N, Ponce de León MS, Zollikofer CPE. Exploring femoral diaphyseal shape variation in wild and captive chimpanzees by means of morphometric mapping: a test of Wolff’s law. Anat Rec. 2011;294:589–609.