ambience: gorilla grunting, Gorilla vocalizations
How do you perform a physical on a 300-pound gorilla? Stay tuned. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
When the Wildlife Conservation Society set out to monitor the health of Western Lowland gorillas in the rainforests of central Africa, they dispatched field veterinarian William Karesh. He had to spend days hiking through the forest just to find a gorilla that he could examine.
“They live in social groups and we of course donâ€™t want to disturb a family group, so we looked for bachelor males that donâ€™t have a family. So, that makes it a little more time consuming. You have to understand theyâ€™re certainly completely wild, so if they get the scent of a human, or the sight of a human, theyâ€™re going to run away. So, it might take two or three hours of crawling through the mud, and through the forest to get close enough to dart one.”
The dart, fired from an air-powered rifle, is filled with a harmless anesthetic that puts the animal to sleep within minutes.
“So, we have a gorilla sleeping now under anesthesia. We want to immediately carry him into the shade, if he didnâ€™t go to sleep in the shade – because it’s quite hot out there – so I move to a cool place. It takes about four or five people to carry a big male gorilla. And you just wade through the marsh, or the swamp and get him into a nice, safe place. You make sure heâ€™s breathing well, check his heart rate with a stethoscope, take a blood sample, take measurements, body weight, examine their teeth, do an eye exam, look in their ears – and a normal complete physical.”
William Karesh says he always sits with the gorilla until he wakes up, to make sure his patient is not attacked by a leopard or other predator. You wonder whether later, the gorilla will remember having woken up in the company of an alien creature.
“Suddenly youâ€™re abducted. Thereâ€™s a lot of strange things go on. And the next day, you know, what do you tell your friends? Who’d ever believe you that that just happened?”
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.