Heart Disease Awareness Month Press Materials

Eat Your Heart Out: Chimpanzees and Gorillas Go Ape for Heart Disease Awareness Month

Chicago (Feb. 11, 2014) --- Throughout the month of February, the American Heart Association (AHA) is painting the town red for heart disease awareness. Lincoln Park Zoo, in partnership with AHA, is raising awareness that heart disease is not only a major health risk for humans, but for humankind’s closest evolutionary relatives the great apes. In a pioneering study, Lincoln Park Zoo is leading innovative research on chimpanzee heart health utilizing state-of-the-art human technologies that aim to better understand cardiac disease. 
Extended Ambulatory Electrocardiogram (EKG) recorders are in place for 9 chimpanzees housed at the zoo. While a couple of these individuals are known to have cardiac disease and are being treated with medications, the others seem to be in good health. The research team uses these devices to track normal baseline heart activity and to interpret abnormalities. This is the first time any zoo has attempted this approach with any great ape species although other devices such as echocardiograms have become routine.   
“This new technology, developed and donated to the zoo by Medtronics, permits measurement of cardiac electrical activity during normal activity patterns of sleep, exercise and routine social interactions, providing veterinarians with a more complete picture of cardiac activity for the species,” explained Kathryn Gamble, DVM, the zoo’s Dr. Lester E. Fisher Director of Veterinary Medicine.  
The zoo’s veterinary team placed the devices through a small skin incision in the chest when the apes were under anesthesia for their routine annual physical exams. Consulting electrophysiologists were then able to individually program each device.  The EKG devices will function for up to 36 months, holding weeks’ worth of heart data that can be downloaded easily by non-invasive training techniques. Zookeepers are teaching the apes using positive reinforcement to participate in routine sessions where the chimpanzees voluntarily stand still in front of a glass or mesh panel in their exhibit while an electronic reader is waved close to their chest to download the data. 
Currently, chimpanzees in accredited zoos across North America receive full physicals, with cardiac work-ups every one to three years, but these exams only provide medical professionals who care for the animals with a brief glimpse at their heart health. Whilst some cardiac issues can be detected during these exams and treatment can follow, there are situations where these exams don’t uncover cardiac abnormalities and can result in a chimpanzee being deemed apparently healthy when heart disease was, in fact, present.   
Several years ago, Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) institutions created the Great Ape Heart Project headquartered at Zoo Atlanta to address the critical need to better understand cardiovascular disease in great apes.  The project involves more than 50 participants from more than 30 institutions, including Lincoln Park Zoo, to coordinate cardiac-related research activities aimed at enhancing the body of knowledge that will benefit great apes across zoos nationwide.  
“It is clear that focused EKG measurements in short duration bouts have not assessed fully potential cardiac pathologies,” explained Gamble. “By having foreknowledge of cardiac health and potential EKG abnormalities in a chimpanzee patient, veterinarians would be better able to anticipate individual patient’s needs and provide directed care and treatment. While this study is not aimed at finding the cause of heart disease and sudden death in chimpanzees, it will provide critical information to better understand particular EKG trends which will help veterinarians propose appropriate intervention and treatment if and when needed.”


Media Contacts

Sharon Dewar
(312) 742-2246





Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, a historic landmark founded in 1868, is dedicated to connecting people with nature by providing a free, family-oriented wildlife experience. A leader in conservation science both globally and locally, the zoo exemplifies the highest quality animal care and educational outreach. The not-for-profit zoo, managed by The Lincoln Park Zoological Society, is a member-supported organization and one of the nation’s only free, privately managed zoos. For more information, call 312 -742-2000 or visit www.lpzoo.org.


Photos and video by Todd Rosenberg / Lincoln Park Zoo



Download interview with Dr. Kathryn Gamble (82MB .mpg)

Download B-Roll Footage (44MB .mpg)