FEEL GOOD | Makokou the gorilla to smell the roses after successful nasal surgery

Makoko is prepared for the CT scan.
Makoko is prepared for the CT scan.
Adrian Tordiffe
  • Makokou is a 34-year-old western lowland male gorilla from the Johannesburg Zoo.
  • He underwent a three-hour surgery to remove inflammatory polyps that had completely blocked his nasal passages.
  • The surgery was successful and Makokou is now in recovery.

Makokou, the 34-year-old western lowland male gorilla, will be able to smell and taste again after undergoing successful extensive nasal surgery over the weekend.

Makokou, who calls the Johannesburg Zoo home, was the second gorilla in history to have endoscopic nasal and sinus surgery in order to remove inflammatory polyps that had completely blocked his nasal passages.

This is according to a statement by the University of Pretoria's Veterinary Science Faculty.

The gorilla, weighing 210kg, was transported to the university's Onderstepoort campus two weeks ago by helicopter, so that he could undergo a scan of his nasal passages.

Dr Kresen Pillay, clinical veterinarian at the Johannesburg Zoo and UP alumnus, does a final check of Makoko before he was offloaded from the helicopter.

A team of specialists from the veterinary faculty joined forces with human medical specialists and the Johannesburg Zoo veterinary team to accomplish the mammoth task of not only transporting Makokou, but also to perform the surgery.

"The team made use of the latest medical technology to navigate their way through the nasal passages and sinuses of the 210kg patient," the statement read.

"For the first time, frozen sections of tissue removed from the gorilla's nose were evaluated on-site by a pathologist during the procedure.

"Shortly after 9am, Makokou was darted with a combination of anaesthetic drugs. Once asleep, he was transported a few hundred metres to the Zoo's veterinary hospital, where the surgery theatre had been prepared with state-of-the-art monitoring and surgical equipment."

The statement further said that anaesthetists provided Makokou with the necessary intravenous painkilling drugs and ensured that he was stable prior to the surgery.

The surgical team then carefully removed several large inflammatory polyps that were obstructing his nasal passages.

READ | No 'mission impossible' after airlifting a gorilla by helicopter for a CT scan

"The polyps had prevented proper drainage from the gorilla's frontal sinuses, causing a chronic sinusitis. Infected material had to be dislodged and flushed from his sinuses."

All biopsies of the polyps, which were evaluated during the surgery, showed no sign of any cancerous tissue.

Following the three-hour surgery, Makokou was returned to his enclosure night-room, where he was monitored carefully during his recovery.

"This was only the second time in history that this kind of procedure had been performed on a gorilla. The only other case was in a male gorilla of similar age at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in 2014."

The university said that, while the cause of the nasal polyps is still unknown, in humans, similar inflammatory polyps are thought to be caused by chronic allergies or fungal infections.

However, initial blood tests suggest that Makokou is unlikely to be suffering from any allergies.

"The secondary bacterial infections in his nose and sinuses have made it difficult to determine if any fungal organisms are involved.  Further samples were taken for culture and histopathology, which will hopefully shed some light on the underlying cause."

On Sunday, the Johannesburg Zoo veterinary team reported that Makokou was looking well. Throughout the day he became progressively more active, eating and drinking special feed items offered to him.

"On 9 July, Makokou will be celebrating his 35th birthday and he would be able to do so with a much better sense of smell and taste."

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