Contact: Kyle Shepherd
(O) 502-238-5331 (C) 502-744-5639
The Louisville Zoo’s world-famous silverback gorilla, Jelani (jah– lah-knee), underwent a successful surgery to remove an abdominal mass last week and is resting in recovery behind the scenes at Gorilla Forest. The 25-year-old gorilla is a guest favorite and has been a resident at the Zoo since the opening of Gorilla Forest in 2002. Jelani captured the hearts and attention of visitors and fans across the globe after videos of his engagement with guests and their smart devices went viral.
Jelani’s care team reports that he is interacting with his favorite troopmate and fellow silverback, Bengati, through mesh and moving around quite nicely. His appetite has picked up and his surgery site looks good.
The Zoo’s Animal Health Center Team, which includes Senior Veterinarian Zoli Gyimesi, DVM and Associate Veterinarian Erica Lipanovich, DVM, often consults with human health care practitioners. For Jelani’s case, they conferred with Baptist Health Louisville General Surgeon Richard Pokorny, MD to perform the surgery to remove the abdominal mass.
Jelani had previously presented symptoms to his keeper care team of lethargy, decreased eating habits and an apparent weakness when climbing. Initial examination ruled out heart and dental diseases, two common health problems in gorillas, but an abdominal mass was discovered. On a subsequent exam, Jelani was transported off campus to a local imaging facility for a CT scan. The scan highly suggested a perforated intestine and localized infection. This has been previously reported in gorillas in managed care facilities and occurs in people as well.
The surgeons were able to isolate the mass and found that it was attached to the appendix, so an appendectomy was performed in addition to the mass removal. The diagnosis was welcome news to the care team as a more involved intestinal resection and reattachment was unnecessary which set the stage for an easier recovery for Jelani.
Primate anatomy and human anatomy are very similar. Gorillas, like humans, can live without an appendix without any need for a change in diet, activity level or lifestyle.
“We are grateful for all of the human practitioners in our community who are willing to consult with us and, in some instances like this, to perform surgery on an animal in our care,” said Gyimesi. “Jelani is bright and alert and moving about normally. We will continue to closely monitor his progress and hope to have him back with other gorillas and on exhibit soon.”
In addition to Dr. Pokorny, the Zoo would like to thank Lindsey Arnold, MD, who partnered with Dr. Pokorny on the surgery, as well as surgical technician Tisa Revels, surgical nurse Kara Barr, anesthesiologist Todd Patton, MD and Baptist Health President Larry Gray.
“It isn’t every day you get a call to consult on gorilla care,” said surgeon Pokorny. “I was honored to be asked to partner with the staff at the Louisville Zoo on Jelani’s surgery and treatment plan. I’m very appreciative for the leadership at Baptist Health Louisville for their support on this unique case. We were relieved that ultimately it was an appendectomy which bodes well for long-term health. We saw Jelani earlier this week and he looked great. It was nice to see him moving around so well. Gorillas are tough!”
“I am so proud of our gorilla care and hospital teams for their exceptional care of Jelani and all of our animal ambassadors,” said Louisville Zoo Director Dan Maloney. “It truly is a group effort providing for some of the world’s most precious creatures. We are so grateful for our health care partners like Baptist Health Louisville and Drs Pokorny and Arnold for their surgical expertise in helping us successfully treat Jelani!”
Currently, the Louisville Zoo’s other world-renowned gorilla at Gorilla Forest – Helen, the second oldest known gorilla in the world — is being treated at 64 for age-related mobility issues and was recently for periodontal disease. At 64, Helen is well beyond the median age for a female gorilla in managed care, which is 38.4. In the few remaining wild habitats for gorillas, the average life span is far less.
The Zoo will provide guests with further Jelani updates on its social media channels and website at louisvillezoo.org/jelani-health.
The Zoo is open daily year-round. Winter hours are 10 a.m. ─ 4 p.m. (enjoy until 5 p.m.). The Zoo is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered, with 100,000 estimated to be left in the remnant wild. There are about 353 residing in 51 AZA-accredited institutions in North America. Due to habitat destruction primarily caused by mining, logging, and agricultural expansion, their numbers continue to decline. Coltan mining also impacts the gorilla population. Coltan is a black metallic mineral used in nearly every electronic device today, including cell phones. The Louisville Zoo partners with Louisville-based Eco Cell and collects old cell phones to help raise money for gorilla conservation. The bushmeat trade and the Ebola virus are also significant threats.
About the Louisville Zoo
Since 2011, under Mayor Fischer’s administration, the Louisville Zoo celebrated its 50th anniversary, opened nine new exhibits and attractions, and won national awards for Glacier Run and School at the Zoo. Considered Kentucky’s most popular not-for-profit paid attraction, the Zoo welcomed nearly 9 million guests in the last decade. In 2021, the Zoo was voted “Best Place to Take Kids in Summer,” by LEO Weekly, “Best Kid-Friendly Attraction” by Kentucky Living Magazine and Boo at the Zoo presented by Meijer made the Top 10 Halloween Festivals list by thetravel.com. Community Access Memberships, deep-discount days, the Future Healers Got Zoo Buddies partnership and the accessible playground are among prime efforts to make Louisville Zoo even safer, more engaging, and more inclusive. Among the Louisville Zoo’s most successful conservation programs, the black-footed ferret breeding effort produced 1,100 kits and repatriated more than 800 of these most highly endangered, American mammals to the wild.
The Louisville Zoo, a non-profit organization and state Zoo of Kentucky, is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
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