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Vet: Ape died of heart disease

Perry Beeman

Des Moines Register

August 1, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]

Veterinarians ruled that a bonobo from Great Ape Trust of Iowa died last month of a heart condition, the trust announced Tuesday.

Iowa State University veterinarians examined P-Suke, an 27-year-old male, after he died July 7 while under anesthesia to prepare for hernia surgery. That necropsy immediately found that P-Suke had cardiac fibrosis, which results when stiff, fibrous tissue forms in the muscle and lining of the heart. That makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughtout the body.

Dr. Brigetta Hughes, a trust staff veterinarian, said there was no way to know if the anesthesia played a role in the death because there is no physical evidence that would show that. However, the staff confirmed that the appropriate drug was used at the correct dose.

The trust delayed the release of the ISU necropsy until the final report was issued.

“Cardiac fibrosis occurs in great apes as it does in human,” Hughes said. “At this time, we’re unsure what caused it to develop in P-Suke, but we believe he lived with it for at least several years. We can say, however, the fibrosis was not related to arterial changes such as those seen in humans with poor diet, lack of exercise or hypertension.”

P-Suke, whose name is Japanese for “little gentleman,” as father to four of the seven bonobos at the southeast Des Moines ape research center near Easter lake. They are Elikya, Nyota, Nathan and Maisha.

Born in 1979 in the rain forest of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, P-Suke was taken to Luxembourg. Later, scientists found him in a traveling circus in Japan. In the early 1990s, researchers with the Japan Monkey Centre sent P-Suke to the Language Research Center at Georgia State University in Atlanta. He arrived at Great Ape Trust in May 2005.