Oklahoma City gorilla undergoes first robotic surgery to repair hernia

OKLAHOMA CITY – Surgery can always be a complicated matter, and zookeepers at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden knew they would need a little extra help when one of their animals needed an invasive procedure.

In 2010, the zoo’s 33-year-old Western lowland gorilla, Emily, was diagnosed with an umbilical hernia. At that point, the team came up with a health plan to monitor Emily and make sure the hernia was not harmful.

In June of 2017, Emily began showing signs of hair loss and sporadic appetite loss, so the team took a closer look at the hernia. The exam and test results showed that Emily was healthy and the hernia wasn’t causing her discomfort.

However, the veterinary team noticed a change in the appearance of the tissues surrounding the hernia earlier this summer. Experts were then able to determine that part of her intestine was in the hernia.

To avoid the situation from becoming serious, the veterinary team made the decision to perform surgery.

“Our main priority was to provide Emily with the best treatment possible and prevent this from becoming an emergency situation,” said Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, Oklahoma City Zoo director of veterinary services. “After consulting with local medical specialists, we determined robot-assisted surgery was the optimal option for repairing Emily’s hernia because it would be the most minimally invasive procedure. It would also provide the greatest opportunity for a full recovery without post-operative complications.”

A standard surgery would result in an 8-to-10 inch abdominal incision, whereas the robot-assisted surgery would create a 1-centimeter incision per port placement.

Warning: Video depicts some surgical procedures. Viewer discretion is advised.

The surgery took three hours to complete and Emily became the first Western lowland gorilla in human care to undergo a robotic surgery.

“Emily’s surgery was a success thanks to the team of specialists who gave their time and expertise to assist,” said Dr. D’Agostino. “Performing this advanced surgery was a cooperative effort, and we are fortunate to have such an extensive network of medical experts committed to the care and well-being of our beloved animal.”

Once Emily's surgical repair has fully healed, she will be reunited with her family group.