At the ripe old age of 51, Winston, a critically endangered silverback gorilla at San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is surviving and serving as a testament to the zoo's commitment to conservation. As one of the oldest male gorillas in managed care and a troop leader since he arrived in 1984, Winston has become a cherished figure, fathering nine offspring and even adopting two unrelated males—rare behavior for silverbacks.
In 2017, his caregivers noticed Winston was lagging behind his usual vigor, showing telltale signs of fatigue and a decreased appetite. This prompted a full medical investigation to quickly determine what the underlying issue. "Winston has always been an amazingly strong primate, but older great apes—particularly male gorillas—are susceptible to heart disease, a primary cause of mortality,” said Matt Kinney, senior veterinarian with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, in a statement reported by their press release. An echocardiogram revealed some irregularities in his heart function, prompting a closer watch on the statesmanlike gorilla's health.
When the pandemic struck, it didn't spare Winston or his gorilla companions—they contracted COVID-19 in January 2021 and made headlines as the first great apes to do so. Winston's advanced age and cardiac history worried his medical team enough to surround him with an impressive array of specialists, ranging from cardiologists to wildlife health professionals from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance itself. A six-month course of extensive testing and treatment followed, eventually adding a heart monitor implant to the mix for better management of his condition.
The implemented heart monitor was a crucial innovation, providing real-time insights to help the team administer Winston's care. "The heart monitor is a remarkable innovation, offering invaluable data on Winston's cardiac health," Kinney stated in the press release by San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Alongside his clinical treatment, Winston received monoclonal antibody therapy, another vital component to aid his recovery from COVID-19.
For further details about Winston's journey and the conservation efforts that support him and his species, interested individuals can turn to the chronicles showcased on the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance's website.