PHOENIX — Two years later, a medical breakthrough at the Phoenix Zoo is paying dividends across the country. Visitors still ask the orangutan keepers about an open scar on 13-year-old Daniel, a Bornean Orangutan living at the zoo.
The scar might be the very reason Daniel is alive today. The success of a groundbreaking procedure is giving hope to other captive apes around the world who are dealing with a similar and common problem.
“It’s really cool we were able to have a successful treatment for him,” keeper Jackie Hensley said while feeding Daniel a snack.
The orangutan, who moved to Phoenix from Cleveland years ago was dealing with a respiratory illness known as air sacculitis.
Dr. David Simms is not a veterinarian, so he was a little surprised when the Phoenix Zoo called him for help with Daniel’s infection.
“Before this, there was really nothing they could do,” Dr. Simms said about his desire to help the orangutan breathe easier. “The anatomy of an orangutan is very similar to that of a human, we do this operation a lot of times in humans so we know it works in humans."
Now the medical world knows this procedure also works in apes. News of Daniel’s recovery is spreading across the world, prompting a call from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where Daniel’s dad and former habitat mate were dealing with the same illness.
“Two orangutans at the Cleveland zoo were having similar problems that Daniel was having. They wanted me to come up and take care of them as well,” Dr. Simms said.
A few weeks later, Dr. Simms successfully performed surgery on his 2nd and 3rd orangutans.
Now Simms is writing a medical journal on the procedure in hopes other doctors can follow his lead. “
I’m an animal lover,” Dr. Simms said. “So this is really cool.”