Babec, the Birmingham Zoo gorilla who became famous as the first zoo animal to successfully receive a pacemaker, is ailing, according to zoo officials.
The 27-year-old gorilla started clutching his chest, acting lethargic and losing interest in food about three weeks ago, according to zoo spokeswoman Katrina Cade. He was pulled from his exhibit in the primate house two weeks ago.
No specific prognosis has been made, but zoo CEO Bill Foster said Thursday that every day Babec remains alive is a surprise.
"He has his good days and bad days," Foster said. "Sometimes we can address them with medication, but this is heart disease and it's not going to be cured."
Babec was diagnosed with heart disease in 2003, and a pacemaker was implanted during a seven-hour operation in 2004. It has been replaced twice since then, but he's now too sick for more surgery, Cade said.
He's been a model for zookeepers nationwide, who are scrambling to figure out why gorillas around the country, especially males in their 20s and 30s, have been dying or falling ill because of heart ailments.
Babec's father, who remained at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, where Babec was born, died of heart failure in his mid-20s. His brother, who lives at the Cleveland Zoo, was recently diagnosed.
Other zoos around the country have lost their male gorillas to heart problems in recent years, including the National Zoo in Washington, which lost two in 2006, one of them during a pacemaker operation. The same year, the gorillas died at the San Francisco Zoo and the Memphis Zoo. The zoos in Toledo, Ohio, and Knoxville have also lost gorillas due to heart failure.