22 Apr 2014

Vets, keepers and doctors swing into action at Chester Zoo as 49kg orangutan Vicky undergoes a sinus operation – the first time the procedure has ever been carried out in the UK.

Vets, keepers and doctors swung into action at Chester Zoo as 49 kg orangutan Vicky successfully underwent a sinus operation – the first time the procedure has ever been carried out in the UK.

Performed at Chester Zoo’s on-site Animal Health Centre, the two-hour surgery was conducted by the zoo’s vets, colleagues from Blackpool Zoo and a human sinus expert from Nuffield Heath The Grosvenor Hospital in Chester.

Vicky, a Bornean orangutan, usually lives at Blackpool Zoo but, along with three other orangutans, is currently staying in Chester until her new exhibit in Blackpool is completed.

Chester Zoo vet Steve Unwin said:

“It’s fantastic that we’ve been able to do this for Vicky. Her chronic sinusitis may have made her feel ‘thick headed’ and made her more susceptible to picking up infections. This operation will dramatically improve things for her, make her much more comfortable.

“As with humans, it is important to minimise the length of time a patient is anaesthetised so there were quite a few people involved to perform the various tasks as swiftly as possible. That’s why we collaborated with the team from Blackpool Zoo, Nuffield Health and an orangutan specialist from Switzerland.

“The operation went very well indeed, as smoothly as we could have hoped, and it’s great news for Vicky given her key role in the European Bornean orangutan breeding programme. She should be back with the group within 12 hours.”

Vicky has already made a significant contribution to the zoo population of her species having produced two girls – Summer and Cherie – at Blackpool Zoo. They too are staying in Chester before they move back to their new exhibit ahead of its opening this summer.

Jawed Tahery, consultant from Nuffield Heath The Grosvenor Hospital in Chester, added:

“I carry out sinus procedures on humans on a weekly basis but this is the first time I’ve ever performed one on an orangutan.

“However, the principles are actually exactly the same as, anatomically speaking, humans and orangutans are no different when it comes to the make-up of the skull.”

Orangutans – or old man of the forest as they are also known – are one of human’s closest relatives. But in the wild the demand for timber, palm oil, roads, agricultural land and space for mining means huge areas of forest have now been lost, taking with it the homes of both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans and pushing them perilously close to extinction.

In October, Chester Zoo is launching a campaign to help protect orangutans in the wild. Go Orange for Orangutans will urge schools, families, businesses and individuals to help do their bit to save the critically endangered animals. All funds raised through the campaign will help conservationists continue their work to protect orangutans in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra.

Visit the zoo’s conservation website www.actforwildlife.org.uk/orange to sign up and find out more.


Orangutan facts

• Vicki was born on June 17 1984 • She was born at Blackpool Zoo • She moved to Chester Zoo on 06/02/2013 from Blackpool Zoo while their new house is being built • Chester Zoo currently has 10 Sumatran and 10 Bornean orangutans (including the four which are from Blackpool Zoo who are being looked after whilst their home is being refurbished) • Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are at crisis point with their numbers dwindling in the wild • Bornean orangutans are classed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered meaning they face a very high risk of extinction in the wild. Sumatrans are critically endangered • Chester Zoo is home to the oldest orangutan in the UK, Martha, who arrived in 1965 • Orangutans are the only non-African great ape • The orangutan is the world’s largest tree climbing mammal • Bornean orangutans have darker hair and are slightly larger in build than Sumatran orangutans. • Mature males sometimes produce loud, booming ‘long calls’ that can be heard up to two kilometres away in the forest • An orangutan has the same number of teeth as a human, 32 • The arm span of an orangutan can reach up to two meters