SALT LAKE CITY — A 15-year-old howler monkey at Utah's Hogle Zoo is breathing easier after surgery Tuesday, during which a severe case of sinusitis was cleared out.
Doctors from the University of Utah volunteered to help with Eli, who had been suffering with congestion and "thick, white nasal mucous" for a couple months, said Dr. Erika Crook, associate veterinarian at the zoo.
She said it was a cold that, despite several attempts with various medications, seemingly wouldn't go away.
"He would wipe his nose a lot and every once in a while would cough or sneeze, but he would still do his thing and train with the keepers and interact with his mother, who is housed with him," Crook said. "He just didn't feel good and that was apparent."
The monkey, whose species is known for its prehensile tail and a loud howling call, was taken to University Hospital for an X-ray. The CT scan revealed severe nasal inflammation and pockets of pus blocking the monkey's wide-set, round nasal cavities, causing him to be able to breathe only through his mouth.
Dr. Richard Orlandi, an ear, nose and throat specialist and professor of surgery at the U.'s School of Medicine, joined up with the zoo's veterinarians to scope out the problem.
Using donated endoscopic equipment from providers Karl Storz and Medtronics, and images from a prior CT scan that revealed the problem, the doctors performed the noninvasive surgery using a tiny, 2.7-mm scope. While sinus problems are common in humans and monkeys, Eli is much smaller than an adult human, so the team used pediatric medical equipment to treat him. The equipment is not the same as is used in a hospital setting, but is typically used in research opportunities.
The doctors were able to make just one tiny incision to flush out the infection, and Crook said Eli "is already breathing better."
The monkey has rejoined others in the Primate House at the zoo and is expected to be fed and watered at his usual times.
Crook said U. doctors, who typically work with humans, are called upon to help in certain situations two or three times each year. She and one other veterinarian care for approximately 900 animals at the zoo and sometimes don't have the equipment or the expertise to handle every situation.
"And we have really cool, endangered, exotic animals that they don't normally get to work with, so it is a win-win situation," she said, adding that doctors usually relish the challenge and the veterinarians appreciate the assistance.
Surgery isn't a new thing for Eli, however. In 2008, the monkey had surgery to remove cataracts that formed in his eyes when he was a baby. Crook said he had some metabolic and nutritional problems at another zoo, and later in life, physicians decided the procedure would help restore his vision.
Eli was quite responsive then and is showing the same promise this time around, according to zoo officials.
"We're hoping he makes a full recovery," said Erica Hansen, community relations coordinator at the zoo.