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Cause of Death Confirmed for Jabari, Philadelphia Zoo's Western Lowland Gorilla

PHILADELPHIA, PA (September 5, 2013) – Philadelphia Zoo announced today the cause of death for Jabari, the iconic 28-year-old male western lowland gorilla who died in August while under anesthesia. After analyzing results of the necropsy (animal version of an autopsy), Zoo veterinarians have concluded that the gorilla's sudden illness and subsequent death were due to an acute severe bacterial infection located under the back of his tongue.

The infection caused major swelling around the opening to the trachea (windpipe), and although Jabari seemed to be breathing adequately before his anesthesia, once the drugs took effect and he fell asleep, the swelling in his throat blocked his airway and prevented oxygen from reaching his lungs. "As soon as Jabari stopped breathing, we tried to place a breathing tube through his mouth into his windpipe, but realized that abnormal swelling in the back of his throat was completely blocking our way," says Dr. Keith Hinshaw, the Zoo's senior veterinarian. "Our veterinarians then performed an emergency tracheotomy (an incision through the front of the neck directly into the windpipe) to provide oxygen to his lungs and performed CPR along with administering emergency drugs, but by that time his heart had been without oxygen for too long and we could not resuscitate him."

Although the cause of the tongue infection is not known for sure, the pathologist performing the necropsy also discovered a small wound underneath the tongue leading toward the back of the throat. The source of the wound is unknown but could have been caused by a puncture from a small piece of plant material such as twig. "Bacteria normally found in the mouth could have entered the tissues under the tongue through this wound and spread over a 2-3 day period," says Hinshaw. "A human with this type of infection would go immediately to a hospital for treatment because of the discomfort, but a wild animal such as a gorilla will often try to hide their symptoms in order not to appear weak to other animals, and by the time they show signs of illness the infection can be life-threatening."  Hinshaw adds,   "It's heartbreaking to realize that a hidden infection like this can result in the death of such a magnificent animal. Although an infection in or under the tongue of a gorilla is a rare event, we want to make sure that zoo veterinarians everywhere are aware of this syndrome and are prepared as much as possible for the complications that can result."

Jabari was born at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago on February 5, 1985, and arrived in Philadelphia from the St. Louis Zoo on July 13, 2004. The group Jabari resided with most recently included Honi, an 18-year-old female, and Kira, a 14-year-old female. During his nine years in Philadelphia, Jabari was one of the Zoo’s most beloved animals and the largest animal in PECO Primate Reserve. Most recently, he garnered attention for his potential to breed with Kira, and father the first gorilla born at the Zoo in many years. Kira arrived in Philadelphia from Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo on June 10, 2013. Based on behavior and recent pregnancy tests there is no indication that Kira is pregnant. Zoo staff will continue to monitor her and watch for her next ovulation cycle to fully confirm.
 
“Our Zoo community is still mourning the loss of one of our favorite animals. We work each day with the understanding that every animal in the Zoo will eventually pass away. For example, we have an extremely old pride of lions, well past the average life expectancy, and we anticipate losing one or more of them in the near future due to age-related issues. However, no one expected or was prepared for the sudden loss of our silverback male gorilla Jabari, and it has been very difficult for our staff,” says Dr. Andy Baker, Chief Operating Officer.
 
The Philadelphia Zoo is home to four other western lowland gorillas. Females Kira and Honi were part of Jabari’s group. A second “bachelor group”, includes 14-year-old male, Louis, who is Jabari’s son, and 11-year-old male Kuchimba, who is Honi’s son. Gorillas may live as long as 50 years in zoos, with a more typical lifespan in the mid-30’s. The Philadelphia Zoo's Massa held the longevity record of 54 years at the time of his death in 1984.  Western lowland gorillas are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species.

ABOUT THE PHILADELPHIA ZOO:
America's first zoo and one of the region's foremost conservation organizations, the Philadelphia Zoo is home to nearly 1,300 animals, many rare and endangered. By connecting people with wildlife, the Philadelphia Zoo creates joyful discovery and inspires action for animals and habitats. The Philadelphia region’s leading family destination, the Zoo welcomed more than 1.2 million visitors last year. The Philadelphia Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. To become a member, donate or to purchase tickets please visit www.philadelphiazoo.org