Early Wednesday morning, Bill the chimpanzee, Sequoia Park Zoo’s oldest resident, is scheduled to undergo a examination to evaluate his current state of health and attempt to diagnose a persistent respiratory condition he has been experiencing.
He will also be screened for certain diseases to determine his eligibility for future socialization with other chimpanzees.
Gretchen Ziegler, curator and supervisor of the zoo, said in a previous interview with The Eureka Reporter that the zoo is looking at different options for Bill, one of which includes bringing a temporary mate to live with him for the remainder of his life.
“(It is) possible, but it’s not very likely; we would not do it in the current exhibit because we as zoo professionals do not think it is adequate,” she said. “There are three barriers: one, a new exhibit; two, evaluating the actual need for that based on Bill’s personality; and three, finding a chimp that’s appropriate.”
The examination will include X-rays, blood tests, tissue cultures, ultrasound imaging and an electrocardiogram, all performed while Bill is under general anesthesia.
General anesthesia for anyone — animal or human — carries some risk, and Bill’s advanced age of 59 is an additional factor, according to a zoo news release.
To minimize the risk, zoo staff collaborated with the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, a national chimpanzee management group, to assemble a veterinary team from the University of California, Davis, with expertise in great ape veterinary medicine to lead the procedure.
This team of experts is familiar with Bill’s medical history and will be performing the exam at the zoo with mobile equipment to ensure a quick and efficient procedure.
In preparation, Bill has been trained during the past several months by zoo staff to accept injections in his arm, with the goal of making the anesthesia as stress-free for him as possible.
“This just goes to show how exceptional Bill is,” said zookeeper Jan Roletto. “Any other chimpanzee would require months or years of conditioning to work up to this, but Bill just takes it right in stride.”
“Bill’s physical and emotional health are both very important to us,” Ziegler said. “The purpose of this exam is to assess his physical condition and gather information that will help us evaluate options to ensure Bill’s continued well-being.”