Entries in Primates (2)


Zoo Gives Gorillas Flu Shots ... and Bananas for Their Trouble

Hemera/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Eighteen-year-old Okie is like many teenagers: He's filling out, he's a bit on the quiet side, and he has a predilection for sweet treats. And like many his age, a seasonal flu shot is highly recommended.

But as any doctor will find, the similarities end at the other end of the needle. Okie is a gorilla.

"They catch colds from us … we catch colds from them," said Shannon Finn, senior zookeeper of Zoo New England's Franklin Park Zoo. "They get miserable just like we do. They feel bad and tired and hot and not hungry ... They get very miserable when they get sick."

Okie is not the only one who is getting a jab this season. Kambiri is a happy, active one-year-old -- but her young age makes her more vulnerable to viruses like the flu. To protect her, a trainer is giving Kambiri her first flu shot.

In total, eight of Zoo New England's gorillas will be getting a flu shot this year, a precaution that the zoo's assistant curator Jeannine Jackle said is as vital to the gorillas' health as it is to humans.

"They're very similar to us physically, so they can catch every disease that we can get," Jackle said. "With a one-year-old, like a human, we're more cautious. We want to get her vaccinated. Also with our 40-year-old, we worry about her too."

Jackle said a gorilla with the flu bears a striking resemblance to humans who are battling the bug, showing symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, coughing and lethargy. If one gorilla gets the flu from another ape or a human, the virus can spread quickly to its primate companions.

So since 2005, Zoo New England has been vaccinating all of its gorillas against the flu, using vaccines donated by Children's Hospital Boston. Al Patterson, the director of pharmacy department for the hospital, said the vaccines they give to the zoo are identical to the ones a human would get.

"It's absolutely the same. We're using the human vaccine," Patterson said. "And it's not just the flu vaccine. We do a normal immunization series for baby apes and gorillas and primates," including shots for the measles, mumps and rubella.

The immune systems of gorillas and other great apes are actually quite similar to a human's, said Linda Lowenstine, professor of veterinary pathology at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Previous studies have found virus-fighting antibodies for influenza A in gorillas, a form of the flu that humans catch too. But Lowenstine said scientists aren't sure if the primates are more or less susceptible to the flu than humans.

According to Lowenstine, there were some reports of apes dying in zoos during the flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919.

Chasing a gorilla with a syringe of vaccine in hand may seem like a terrifying prospect, but Jackle said the process is pretty simple. Most apes in captivity are trained to present their body parts to trainers when given a special cue. Using this process, trainers can examine a cut, take a temperature, check a heartbeat or even give an ultrasound. This process of gorilla health care is an improvement over how things used to go, Jackle said.

"When I started at the zoo, we used anesthesia to treat a gorilla. We've tried to minimize that," Jackle said. "Now they can do it voluntarily."

To give an injection, a trainer gives a word or hand signal, and the gorilla will put its shoulder up to the mesh barrier. The trainer will show the gorilla the needle, perhaps giving the ape's shoulder a test touch with their finger or a stick. Then, after a quick stick with the needle, the newly vaccinated ape gets an apple or banana as a treat.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Without Language, Playing Field Leveled Between Humans, Primates

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- With our extensive systems of governance and such global cooperative networks as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, humans are expert cooperators when compared with other animals or even relative primates, such as chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys.

But how much of this cooperation depends on our ability to speak?  Apparently more than you'd believe.  That is the take-away message of a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

At the core of the study was a cooperative-rewards game in which participants -- be they man, monkey or chimp -- had to work in pairs.  The game required participants to cooperate to get the biggest payout -- quarters and dollars for the humans, tasty fruit for the primates.  While there was a less-than-ideal cooperation scenario that gave each partner in a pair a quarter, "winning the game" meant figuring out which scenario offered a dollar reward at each round.

When humans were not told the rules of the game and had to figure things out nonverbally, the way their chimp and capuchin monkey primate counterparts had to, human cooperation did not far outperform that of the other primates.

"Normally, we expect to see 100 percent cooperation with humans when they know the rules of the game.  When we had them go in blind, only five pairs out of 26 developed the best scenarios of cooperation.  That's only 20 percent," said lead author Sarah Brosnan, a psychologist at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University.

Humans still outperformed the other primates, who were chosen because they were notoriously cooperative species, but the extent to which the lack of language handicapped the human pairs was surprising, Brosnan noted.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio