A silverback gorilla at the Oklahoma City Zoo died Monday of heart disease.
Bom Bom, 36, had a ruptured aneurysm in his heart.
“He was a great gorilla,” said Jennifer D'Agostino, director of veterinarian services at the Oklahoma City Zoo. “He was really good with his family. He's going to be missed for sure.”
The ape was diagnosed with heart disease in January 2010.
He was examined after his keepers noticed him having trouble getting around. He was moving slowly, short of breath and unable to use his hips correctly. They suspected back trouble, heart disease or both.
Veterinarians discovered his heart muscle had thickened, and his blood pressure was really high, D'Agostino said.
The ape was put on blood pressure medicine, and he perked up. His energy returned. He started moving normally.
“You could tell he felt much better,” D'Agostino said.
But about two months ago, Bom Bom started losing weight. His keepers gave him extra food, especially protein, but he kept losing weight. He was lethargic.
D'Agostino gave him more medicine for his arthritis and his blood pressure, and he felt better again. But he kept losing weight. He had dropped from about 330 pounds to 287.
He died suddenly while walking outside Monday morning.
“He just dropped and that was it,” D'Agostino said.
Veterinarians arrived at the ape habitat within minutes and performed CPR, but the gorilla could not be revived.
Zoo officials placed his body inside the hallway of the ape house so all the other gorillas could see and touch his body.
“They know what happened,” D'Agostino said. “They seem so far today (Tuesday) to be doing OK. I'm sure that they're going to have a little bit of grieving and upheaval in the group.”
The zoo staff performed a necropsy, an animal autopsy, and discovered an aneurysm ruptured in his heart.
“He died instantly,” she said.
Future on hold
Bom Bom was the alpha male of his troop and a favorite of zoo visitors.
He was on loan from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. He came to Oklahoma City in 2002 as part of a national breeding program.
He has fathered two offspring: a female born in 1986 and a male born in 2004.
The male, George, still lives at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Bom Bom was the leader of his troop of lowland gorillas — one of two troops at the zoo.
Officials at the Oklahoma City Zoo have requested that his body be donated to Skulls Unlimited to either go on display at the Museum of Osteology or become part of an educational exhibit, D'Agostino said.
The final say will come from Bom Bom's home zoo, she said.
For now, his body will stay at the zoo. D'Agostino said she's hopeful for a decision by Wednesday.
“We try to continue the education and conservation message beyond life if we can,” she said.
Necropsy to be shared
The information that D'Agostino and her team gathered during Bom Bom's necropsy will be shared with other scientists across the country through the Gorilla Health Project, a national collaboration of accredited zoos.
Oklahoma City is part of the collaborative, and Bom Bom's final data will be added to the database.
Bom Bom was 36 — a normal life span for a male in captivity, D'Agostino said. But females can live into their 50s.
Heart disease is a mysterious threat to male gorillas, she said.
“It's really common in male gorillas, and we don't really know why it's so common,” she said. “We're trying to figure that out.”