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Return home delayed for Cincinnati gorilla Ndume due to parasite dispute

Posted at 12:39 PM, Jun 05, 2019

CINCINNATI — The first target date to bring Ndume the gorilla home to Cincinnati was May 13.

Then The Gorilla Foundation and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden agreed to delay Ndume's transfer to June 4.

But Ndume is still in California, and the two sides can't agree how soon he'll be ready for a flight to Cincinnati as evidence of a parasite has shown up in his fecal samples.

Ndume belongs to the Cincinnati Zoo, which loaned him to The Gorilla Foundation to be a companion to Koko, the gorilla researchers said had learned sign language. But since Koko died last year, Ndume has lived isolated from other gorillas. A judge ruled in the zoo's favor earlier this year, and the two sides had made plans to transfer Ndume back to Cincinnati before the foundation said it wouldn't be safe due to the parasite detected in Ndume's feces.

The parasite, B. coli, causes issues like diarrhea and abdominal pain in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But officials with the Cincinnati Zoo and veterinarians from other zoos said it's much more common in apes.

Nearly all gorillas in captivity have B. Coli, according to Dr. Mark Campbell, the zoo's director of animal health. In a recent court filing, Campbell said Ndume's behavior and appetite have been totally normal despite the May 24 fecal sample that showed a non-active form of B. coli. They even started Ndume on treatment for B. coili "in an abundance of caution."

Veterinarians from other zoos who oversee gorilla transfers reviewed the finding and were not concerned, saying it would be safe to have Ndume travel to Cincinnati, according to court records.

However, The Gorilla Foundation is arguing that stress related to the move could reactivate the parasite in Ndume's system and could even be fatal for him.

Ndume, at 37 years old, is at "the upper limit of lifespan of gorillas in the wild, and significantly older than the 17 year average lifespan of zoo gorillas," according to the foundation.

Dr. David Shields, a gastroenterologist, said in court records that he believes stress from the transfer would be harmful to Ndume. After years of clean fecal tests, it was only during crate training to prepare for the trip that Ndume's B. coli "flared up."

However, the zoo argued that Shields is not an expert like the zoo veterinarians. He's a physician for humans. But according to the foundation, Shields has specific training in infections like B. Coli and has more than 10 years of experience working with gorillas.

The zoo wants to move Ndume on June 12. The foundation wants Ndume to receive three more weeks of B. coli treatment first, and Shields wants the gorilla to undergo a colonoscopy to ensure he's free of the parasite.

A conference about the case is scheduled Thursday.