Bruno, the orangutan, gets comprehensive health check

Hellabrunn's oldest Orangutan Bruno was recently examined by a seven-member medial team. In order to perform the examination, the 48-year-old primate was first placed under anaesthesia. In addition to a health check by the zoo’s veterinary team, Bruno was also examined by a human cardiologist, a veterinary ultrasound specialist and a veterinary dentist.

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / Nicole Tröger

This was Bruno’s second extensive health check. He had previously undergone a medical checkup in 2012 when he was thoroughly examined under anaesthesia.

In 2012, after a period of feeling unwell, Bruno underwent tooth root treatment. During the examination performed at the time the veterinary team discovered that Bruno had suffered a heart attack and as a result suffered from cardiovascular problems. Since then Bruno has been receiving medication for his heart condition. "Just like with humans as they get old, this also occurs in animals that have reached a certain age," says Hellabrunn’s head veterinarian, Dr Christine Gohl. "At 48, Bruno has now reached the grand age of a senior citizen. In order to ensure he continues to enjoy a good quality of life, it is necessary to examine his health at regular intervals."

At the end of 2016, Bruno’s general health began to deteriorate again. As a result, the veterinarians and keepers at Hellabrunn decided to carry out another health check under anaesthesia. "Such a comprehensive health check for a primate involves a lot of preparation. Weeks of planning were required. We wanted to examine Bruno from head to toe and therefore brought together a team of doctors with specialists from various fields for this operation," adds Dr Christine Gohl. In addition to our three veterinarians at Hellabrunn, a human cardiologist, a veterinary ultrasound specialist, a veterinary dentist and seven keepers were present for the operation conducted in late May.

During the two-hour operation, the orangutan had four teeth pulled out, which had caused him pain. The health check also included a blood test, an ECG and detailed ultrasound examinations of the heart, kidneys and other organs. The results of the medical examination are summarised by Dr Christine Gohl: "We found that Bruno still has some very bad teeth, so a second dental operation will be required in the near future. We also discovered that Bruno had a second heart attack at some time between 2012 and today."

Since the diseased teeth have been removed, Bruno can now normally eat again, without pain. He continues to receive medication for his heart condition.

There was also good news in the health check: Although Bruno’s heart and teeth continue to be of concern, the 48-year-old’s other organs such as his kidney and liver are in a good healthy condition. Furthermore, Bruno still weighs an impressive 88 kg despite age-related muscle loss. By comparison, in 2012 he weighed 91 kg.

Anyone who has observed Bruno in the last few weeks will also have noticed that his long, shaggy coat is now free of the matted strands around his buttocks.

The veterinary team at Hellabrunn zoo comprises three veterinarians who take care of the health of the animal residents every day. An important aspect of their work includes communication and cooperation with the zookeepers, who closely observe the animals every day and are therefore able to spot even the smallest discrepancy. Wild animals are known to hide signs of illness or weakness for as long as possible, which means some diseases may not be recognised until very late. Regular blood tests, ultrasound or other examinations on such animals are only possible under anaesthesia. These health checks require a lot of preparation, particularly as it has to be carefully decided in advance if and when an animal is to be placed under anaesthesia to avoid any unnecessary risk to the animal patient.