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'Gorillas are tough': Louisville Zoo's Jelani recovery battle post-surgery

PHOTOS – Medical professionals discovered a softball-sized mass in the silverback gorilla's abdomen.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Louisville Zoo's famous silverback gorilla, Jelani, underwent surgery to remove a "softball"-sized abdominal mass last week.

Jelani has been a guest favorite at the Zoo since the opening of Gorilla Forest in 2002. He captured the hearts of many gorilla fans after videos of him went viral.

His zookeeper team had begun to notice symptoms: lethargy, decreased appetite and weakness while climbing.

The Zoo’s Animal Health Center Team includes Senior Veterinarian Zoli Gyimesi and Associate Veterinarian Erica Lipanovich. The team often consults with human health care practitioners. 

In Jelani’s case, the team conferred with Baptist Health Louisville General Surgeon Richard Pokorny to perform the surgery.

Credit: Louisville Zoo

“It isn’t every day you get a call to consult on gorilla care,” Pokorny said. “I was honored to be asked to partner with the staff at the Louisville Zoo on Jelani’s surgery and treatment plan."

After ruling our heart and dental diseases, two common health problems in gorillas, an abdominal mass was discovered.

The surgeons had to perform an emergency appendectomy upon discovery that the mass was attached to the gorilla's appendix.

Primate anatomy and human anatomy are very similar, according to zoo officials. Gorillas, like humans, can live without an appendix without any need for a change in diet, activity level or lifestyle.

Credit: Louisville Zoo

"We saw Jelani earlier this week and he looked great. It was nice to see him moving around so well. Gorillas are tough!” Pokorny said.

The 25-year-old gorilla is reportedly in recovery "behind the scenes" at Gorilla Forest after his surgery, according to a press release.

“Jelani is bright and alert and moving about normally," Gyimesi said. "We will continue to closely monitor his progress and hope to have him back with other gorillas and on exhibit soon.”

The Zoo will provide guests with further Jelani updates on its social media channels and website.

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