Blog: Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

Orangutan Undergoes Successful Appendectomy at Brookfield Zoo

Ben Orangutan Appendectomy

Ben, a 40-year-old male orangutan at Brookfield Zoo, is making a full recovery after an emergency appendectomy on January 23, 2018. The team who performed the surgery included 10 members of the Chicago Zoological Society’s (CZS) veterinary staff as well as medical personnel from AMITA Health Hinsdale and La Grange, including Drs. Eric Yang and William Frymark, general surgeons who have performed this procedure on many of their human patients. Because the anatomy is similar between nonhuman primates and humans, teaming zoo veterinarians with doctors who treat people is fairly routine when it comes to more complicated cases, and even occasionally in other species with specific medical concerns.

The animal care staff at Brookfield Zoo are constantly monitoring the animals for any signs of illness. When Ben appeared lethargic and uncomfortable, and showed limited interest in food, the veterinarians were notified. Medical treatments didn’t resolve the issue, and on January 22 he received a comprehensive examination under anesthesia. The exam included blood tests and an ultrasound and CT scan of his abdomen, which revealed a diagnosis of peritonitis and appendicitis. Staff knew they needed to operate immediately.

Ben Orangutan Appendectomy

“Appendicitis is the same surgical emergency in an orangutan as it would be in a person,” said Michael Adkesson, DVM, vice president of clinical medicine for CZS. “Ben’s surgery was more critical than a routine appendectomy because the disease had progressed. Animals tend to conceal their pain and discomfort better than people in order to survive in the wild. So, we are extremely grateful to the staff at AMITA Health for arranging their schedules to join our team in performing the surgery on Ben in a moment’s notice.”

The surgery, which lasted just over five hours, revealed a ruptured appendix that was removed without any complications. Appendicitis is less common in primates than it is in people. However, the surgery is more complex on orangutans due to their larger bowel size, an adaptation to digest a diet that consists primarily of fruit and foliage.

"It was a great experience for me and the surgery team from AMITA Health. The opportunity to help Ben was unique, similar to operating on a child, except that Ben is a 250 pound orangutan!  We were impressed with the level of care, concern, and professionalism on display by the zoo’s team,” said Yang.

Ben Orangutan Appendectomy

Following the surgery, Ben’s care staff were with him around the clock, monitoring his condition and coaxing him to take his medication by hiding them in his favorite food items and novel treats. The recovery from an appendectomy was more challenging in Ben’s situation than for a person because animals don’t understand the need to rest.

On February 13, veterinarians anesthetized Ben for a recheck examination and follow-up CT scan to ensure the problems were fully resolved and that the surgical incision was fully healed. Ben is now back on his normal diet and back with his family group. In the very near future, he will again have access to his habitat at the zoo’s Tropic World: Asia.

Posted: 2/13/2018 12:01:37 PM by Steve Pine

Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

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