Did Kansas City Zoo Give Resident Gorilla a Blood Transfusion?

The procedure likely saved the 24-year-old primate’s life.

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Wildlife, Animal, Gorilla
Image via Public Domain

Claim

The Kansas City Zoo treated hemorrhages diagnosed in one of its resident gorillas via a blood transfusion with blood from the primate’s younger brother.

Origin

A 24-year-old gorilla housed at the Kansas City Zoo underwent a life-saving blood transfusion after he was diagnosed with multiple hemorrhages in Spring 2021. 

The story was circulated in mid-September after several Kansas news publications reported on the procedure, noting that the surgery likely saved the life of the Western lowland gorilla named Curtis.  

In a news release sent to Snopes, the Kansas City Zoo confirmed that in March 2020, it had acquired two adult male Western lowland gorillas, also known as silverbacks, under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, a breeding program for hundreds of the most threatened and endangered species. Endemic to Western Africa, Western lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and are threatened in large part by human activities, including resource extraction and energy production. 

In February 2021, zoo staff told Kansas City NBC affiliate KSHB that Curtis stopped acting like himself. He began interacting less with staff, and started experiencing symptoms like vomiting and a lack of appetite. Over three days, Curtis was on oral medication but didn’t get better. Eventually, his normally pink gums and tongue became pale. 

Curtis was taken to an offsite facility where he was anesthetized and underwent a 30-minute abdominal CT scan that revealed a large retroperitoneal hemorrhage, or a blockage in his abdomen, and a hemorrhage in his left kidney that was putting pressure on the organ. The National Kidney Foundation writes that kidneys act as a filtration system of the body, primarily working to cleanse the blood of toxins and turn waste into urine. And when they are not functioning properly, toxins and excess fluid can build in the body.

Such a life-threatening condition can also be seen in humans. 

“If Curtis had been a human with this condition, he would have gone straight to another floor of the hospital and a surgical team would have performed emergency surgery. The affected kidney would have been removed and he would have received numerous pints of blood from the hospital’s blood bank,” wrote the zoo. 

But blood banks don’t exist for gorillas.  

So veterinarians anesthetized Curtis’ brother, Charlie, and inserted a half-gallon of his blood into Curtis via a transfusion, which injects donated blood into a recipient by way of a narrow tube placed within a vein, according to the Mayo Clinic. Curtis was also given medication to contain the hemorrhage, increase blood production, and prevent an infection. 

The zoo added that it was one of the “most complex, demanding, and exhausting medical cases” ever performed at the Kansas City Zoo and that Curtis is one of the oldest gorillas to have it performed on. 

“In the end, Charlie saved Curtis — the epitome of brotherly love!” wrote the zoo.

Sources

Blood Transfusion – Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/blood-transfusion/about/pac-20385168. Accessed 16 Sept. 2021.

“How Your Kidneys Work.” National Kidney Foundation, 12 Aug. 2014, https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/howkidneyswrk.

“Kansas City Zoo Celebrates Innovative Procedure That Saved Gorilla’s Life.” KSHB, 12 Sept. 2021, https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/kansas-city-zoo-celebrates-innovative-procedure-that-saved-gorillas-life.

KSHB, 12 Sept. 2021, https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/kansas-city-zoo-celebrates-innovative-procedure-that-saved-gorillas-life.

Fiona Maisels (Wildlife Conservation, et al. “IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Gorilla Gorilla Ssp. Gorilla.” IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Jan. 2016. www.iucnredlist.org, https://www.iucnredlist.org/en.

Species Survival Plan Programs | AZA. https://www.aza.org/species-survival-plan-programs. Accessed 16 Sept. 2021.
“Supporting the Gorilla SSP.” Denver Zoo, https://denverzoo.org/zootales/supporting-the-gorilla-ssp/. Accessed 16 Sept. 2021.