Gorilla Bouendje (Bo), 12, developed a limp in his left leg on December 13, 2017, that was later identified as a tibia fracture after imagery confirmed the break. His initial treatments were documented in this previous blog post. Fourteen months later, he is able to move around his habitat with ease including running and jumping. The image below shows the healing process in action:
Bo was behind-the-scenes for three months to allow him to heal in comfort. He was joined by his troopmates during this time because, much like people, gorillas live in groups, and these three have been together almost nonstop for five years. While Bo was separated to heal, George and Bakari remained together but had access to Bo through a mesh partition next door to him. He was medically cleared on June 1 and the slow process of re-introducing him to his troop began.
Initially, veterinary staff expected to need to do surgery to repair the bone. But after consultation with a human surgeon who sees this type of injury regularly, elected to manage him with stall rest. In humans, surgical repair has some complications that can be difficult to manage, and would be even more difficult in a gorilla. They chose to treat conservatively, but were ready to do surgery if it worsened. The vet team did not apply a cast or other splint. Ordinarily this type of fracture would heal best with support, but a gorilla is so strong that they would remove the cast and in the process, likely worsen the original break.
Caretakers and veterinary teams were surprised at how well Bo handled his pain. He would hold his leg up and keep his toes curled in, but maintained a strong composure during his healing process. They describe him as a good patient but his "stiff upper lip" attitude made it difficult to know if pain medication was helping.
In the wild, animals will heal broken bones if they are able to keep the bone in a rested position and not get an infection. As you can imagine, this would be more difficult with the constantly changing environment, need to move around to obtain food, or to avoid predators or other dangers.
Bo, George and Bakari are happy, healthy and at their Great EscApe habitat at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
-Gretchen Cole, Associate Veterinarian & Stephanie Smith, Animal Caretaker