The amazing medical efforts of zoo vets, zookeepers and doctors who normally treat human patients saved our great ape. 

As zookeepers began their final checks on an ordinary evening and prepared to clock off, our beloved 52-year-old Sumatran Orangutan, Puteri, fainted unexpectedly. 

Within minutes, primate keepers had sprung into action and steps were put in motion for an after-hours emergency procedure.  

Zookeepers, veterinary teams and even a human medical doctor collaborated until close to midnight to get Puteri safely through a procedure on her reproductive system, while stabilising her through excessive blood loss. 

Perth Zoo Primate Supervisor, Holly Thompson, said: “Puteri is one of our older orangutans, and when we noticed she had passed several large blood clots before fainting, we knew this was something very serious. 

“We immediately gathered a team of keepers and veterinary staff and made a plan to get her up to the Vet Hospital. 

“Thanks to her rapport with her keepers, they were able to encourage her over to the mesh to administer an injection of anaesthetic so she calmly went to sleep.”

Perth Zoo Veterinary Manager, Simon Hollamby, said: “During the procedure, we had up to about 15 people dedicated to getting her through it safely, it was an incredible collaborative effort by many passionate people. 

“We had keepers, vets, nurses and even human specialists involved and each person had a role to play in supporting Puteri through this health scare.”

Along with Perth Zoo’s veterinary team, human doctor and gynaecological oncology expert Dr. Yee Leung was called in to provide his expertise on Puteri’s case. 

“The anatomy of an orangutan and human is remarkably similar,” Dr Leung said. 

“Puteri had developed a pre-cancerous condition that’s not dissimilar to what we see in humans. What we see with aging primates, we also see with aging human populations.

“The teams here are very high functioning so the procedure to remove Puteri’s uterine polyps was a success.

“The veterinarians, nurses and keepers here at Perth Zoo all work very passionately and have great expertise, the commitment of the staff is amazing, she’s a very well-loved animal.”

In the past weeks, Puteri has been monitored extra closely to ensure her full recovery.    

Puteri willingly participants in a daily training program that allows keepers to get close enough to check their body condition and perform medical activities. 

Keepers can inject medications, do conscious blood draws, brush and floss the orangutans’ teeth, perform nasal swabs and check temperatures. 

The orangutans participate willingly and are offered a tasty treat as part of the positive reinforcement enrichment. 

“It’s thanks to that training that we’ve been able to keep a very close eye on Puteri during her recovery and administer important drugs to aid her anaemia and replenish red blood cells,” Holly said. 

“She’s needed a special medication injected every week to help with red blood cell production and thankfully she has been very compliant and happy to receive.”

Go, Puteri!

And well done to the primate and veterinary teams for going above and beyond, and a big thanks to Dr. Yee Leung.