Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Surgery brings end to any mating hopes for Demba

Demba was transported to the Philadelphia Zoo from Dallas five years ago to 'get it on'.

The Dallas gorilla who came to Philadelphia five years ago to be the matriarch of a new gorilla line will never get pregnant.

She has had a hysterectomy.

But she is alive and well, which is better than might have been expected in early December, when Philadelphia Zoo veterinarian Keith Hinshaw discovered a mass in her abdomen.

Even on Jan. 6, as zoo staffers wheeled the sedated 218-pound gorilla into the zoo's hospital, no one knew for sure what her future would hold.

Standing at her side, thinking about how important an animal Demba was and feeling acutely the trust placed in him, was her primary surgeon, a man who initially was flabbergasted at the prospect of operating on her, then captivated by it.

Until that moment, the primate expertise of Sean Harbison, a surgeon at Temple University Hospital, had been limited to one species: homo sapiens.

But perhaps it was doubly fitting - considering Demba's history, which some view as partly tragic - that she wound up with a specialist in humans.

Born in 1970 before such practices had fallen into disfavor, Demba was raised by humans who put her in diapers and little dresses for zoo promotions.

By the time she met her first gorilla - at age 8 - she seemed unsure, uninterested, alienated from her own species.

It would not have mattered, except that Demba's genes were valuable. With wild-born parents, she would have invigorated the genetic pool of the nation's nearly 400 zoo gorillas.

In 1999, Demba was sent to Philadelphia to meet Chaka, once named "best stud muffin" of Cincinnati because of all the progeny he had fathered there.

The zoo's great apes had died in a 1995 fire. Perhaps Chaka would conquer Demba's reserve, and they could start a new family.

They did not.

No one knows if the mass in her uterus was initially the problem, because no one knows when it started growing. For years, Demba appeared to be perfectly healthy.

Story here.

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