Primate zookeepers at the Sacramento Zoo are jumping with joy because Joey the Chimpanzee is successfully receiving ultrasound examinations.
Joey is an elderly male Chimpanzee (estimated to be 54-years-old). Over the last few weeks, his caretakers noticed that the muscle mass in his shoulder and upper body was decreasing, yet his belly looked unusually round. There are a variety of medical conditions, including the aging process that could cause these changes.They knew that if they could get an ultrasound it would help provide more information about Joey’s health.
Through the regular positive training provided by keepers, Joey already knew basic body presentation behaviors that help veterinarians and zookeepers care for him. These trained behaviors include showing his hands, feet, back, behind, belly, ear, arm, leg and more. Through training, he also has experience receiving laser therapy treatment on his fingers and toes to help with arthritis.
To gain more information about Joey’s condition in the most stress-free way possible, zookeepers and the Zoo’s veterinary technicians began to desensitize him to an ultrasound probe and machine using treats as positive reinforcement. After that was successful, they introduced the presence of the veterinarian with the ultrasound probe to the training process. Just as some people tend to be tense when their dentist or doctor is present, often the Zoo’s veterinary staff receive similar sentiment from the Zoo’s animals.All the training and work was done with a protective barrier between Joe and Zoo staff. After about two weeks of working with Joey, veterinarians were able to successfully perform ultrasound examinations of Joey’s abdomen.
Joey seems to enjoy all his extra training for these medical procedures. He gets excited when zookeepers pull out the training equipment or when veterinarians enter the building because he knows he’s about to receive some tasty treats. He also bangs on the doors or stomps his feet to get keepers’ attention when he wants to train, or if he wants to continue a training session that has ended. While Joey enjoys the training and extra treats that come with the ultrasounds, he is not fond of the gel (probably because it is cold and goopy). To make Joey as comfortable as possible, zookeepers take the extra step of warming the gel with hot water before applying it to his belly.
Thanks to observant zookeepers and successful training, the Zoo’s veterinarians have ruled out a number of medical conditions, narrowing down what could be happening and what we can do to help Joey. Currently, veterinarians are focusing on getting good ultrasound images of difference parts of Joey’s belly to build a more complete picture of his overall health.
Without the bond he and his zookeepers have built, Joe would not be as excited about and open to training and would have had to be immobilized for diagnostics, something that can be risky for an elderly chimpanzee.