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Motuba, Gorilla, Gets Jaw Surgery After Fight With Other Ape In Henry Doorly Zoo

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A gorilla at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
A gorilla at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

OMAHA, Neb. -- It was a bit of a zoo at the Nebraska Medical Center over the weekend, when a special patient came in for jaw surgery.

Motuba, a 27-year-old silverback gorilla, needed a CT scan after a scuffle Thursday night with another gorilla, said Doug Armstrong, director of animal health at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. The zoo can't perform the scan, so it contacted the hospital, whose staff has been consulted on animal cases in the past.

"It wasn't life threatening but we knew we had to address it," Armstrong said.

Motuba is among four silverbacks that socialize at the zoo. Armstrong said Motuba and one of the younger gorillas apparently got into a fight that left the older gorilla with a fractured jaw that pushed three of his teeth outward. No one saw the fight, so it's unclear exactly what happened.

"It's just the nature of male gorillas that you have conflicts," Armstrong said, noting that the group dynamics have been in a state of flux for a few weeks, with the younger ones trying to secure a more prominent role.

After surveying Motuba's injuries, doctors removed a piece of the gorilla's jaw and the askew teeth. While a human could have had his or her jaw repaired and wired shut to heal or could have had teeth replaced with dentures, those treatments don't work for gorillas, Armstrong said.

Motuba will be on a special soft diet for the next week and kept off display until zoo staff can assess how his peers will react to his return, he said.

Hospital spokesman Paul Baltes said the gorilla was kept separate from human patients, and the medical center's infection-control department was involved in the procedure to ensure there was no contamination. Areas of the hospital that the gorilla was in will be thoroughly cleaned.

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