The Bronx Zoo’s Zoological Health Program veterinarians and Mammalogy Department curators have implemented a cutting-edge technology designed for humans to help them monitor and treat cardiac issues in geladas (Theropithecus gelada).

“The Bronx Zoo is recognized worldwide for its leadership in the care and welfare of its animals,” said Jim Breheny, WCS Executive Vice President and Bronx Zoo Director. “We often consult with medical doctors and specialists to explore treatment options that can be applied to the animals in our zoos. In this case, we were able to find a solution that will help keep our animals healthy and while possibly fostering significant advancements in veterinary medicine.”

To analyze the health of the geladas, Bronx Zoo veterinarians, led by Dr. Susie Bartlett, and animal care staff, led by Dr. Colleen McCann, worked with cardiologists from Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, including Drs. Martin Goldman, Lori Croft, and Marc Miller. Initial physical examinations, electrocardiograms (ECGs), and echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds) were performed on three adult male geladas.

Wireless cardiac monitors approximately the size of a paper clip were implanted under the skin of each animal through a minimally invasive surgery. These-cutting edge monitors, implantable loop recorders (ILRs), record ECGs and heart rates when abnormal rhythms and rates are detected by the device. The data is transmitted to a monitor then sent directly to cardiologists by cellular service. This is the first time ILRs have been used in the species and one of the first times it has been used in zoo primates.

Echocardiograms revealed the breeding male, Gore, had compromised cardiac function; data from the ILR showed he was also experiencing arrhythmias. These findings provided the information needed to begin medication to improve heart function and minimize the occurrence of arrhythmias.

Bronx Zoo pathologists previously discovered cardiac disease in deceased geladas. The condition was characterized by replacement of heart muscle by fibrotic scar tissue. The condition most frequently affects middle-aged male geladas, and underlying cause for the fibrosis is unknown.

To date, the monitor function and medical treatments have been successful and all three adult males that received the implants have been reunited with their troops. Gore, the breeding male, has since bred successfully and produced a female offspring in February.

The geladas’ primary caregivers in the Bronx Zoo’s Mammalogy Department continue to monitor the animals, and the veterinarians and cardiologists regularly analyze data from the devices and adjust treatment as necessary.

Geladas are monkeys that are endemic to Ethiopia. They have been referred to as “gelada baboons” or “bleeding heart baboons” for the characteristic red patch of skin on their chests. However, recent molecular evidence show that they are not baboons but rather close relatives to baboons and baboon mangabeys. The female’s red patch becomes more pronounced during the mating season to attract males. The males have a characteristic cape of long hair on their shoulders and backs that resembles a shawl.

Geladas are a graminivores, and are unique among primates in that they feed primarily on grasses and seeds. Adult males have prominent canines that they use to display to other males in competition for females, and they communicate to each other through a wide range of vocalizations, facial gestures and body postures.

The Bronx Zoo is one of only two AZA-accredited zoos in the United States that exhibit geladas. The zoo’s Baboon Reserve, opened in 1990, is representative of habitat of the geladas’ native Ethiopian highlands.  The exhibit also houses Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana), a species of long-horned mountain goat that is adapted to steep mountainous habitats, and rock hyrax (Procavia capensis), a small, terrestrial mammal that lives among boulders, rock crevices and cliffs.

The full story of the geladas and their high-tech care was featured on Animal Planet’s THE ZOO on Sunday, April 28.  The series is a first-ever look behind the scenes at the Bronx Zoo and the other WCS wildlife parks in New York City. The show tells the stories of the animals and the passion their caregivers have for the animals in their charge. Currently in its third season, THE ZOO is on Sundays at 8pm ET/PT and in re-runs through the week. Episodes can also be viewed online at Animal Planet GO.