Gorilla at Paignton Zoo helping science

Researchers are at Paignton Zoo collecting information on great apes Credit: Paignton Zoo

Matadi a 12-year old Western lowland gorilla at Paignton Zoo is helping researchers understand heart disease in great apes – including humans.

Academics are giving the 365 pound gorilla a routine check-up before moving to another collection – Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent.

The data will help to define what is normal for a great ape heart. Setting normal reference data will enable vets to effectively assess heart health in their animals.

It's part of the International Primate Heart Project based at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

It’s hoped the work will help vets in zoos and sanctuaries, but in time understanding the cause of heart disease in the great apes may help to inform breeding and re-introduction programmes as well.

We are collecting information about heart health in great apes. This includes ultrasound images of the heart to look at structure and function and an ECG which examines the electrical activity of the heart.

It’s thought that heart disease is the leading cause of death in great apes, however, the exact causes are unknown. Using human cardiology techniques we hope to explore the cause of heart disease in the animals in order to help vet teams to provide the best possible care for these animals.

In addition, we are interested in exploring differences between human and ape hearts in an attempt to understand the evolution of the human heart and how this may predispose us to disease.

– Mike Stembridge, Paignton Zoo
Matadi a 12-year old Western lowland gorilla is in good health Credit: Paignton Zoo