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April 7, 2016

Gorillas, Bonobos, and Lemurs, Oh My! — Mayo Sonographer Helping Jacksonville Zoo Residents Stay Heart Healthy

By In the Loop

Sonographer Tracy Moegenburg has been working with the Jacksonville Zoo to get the primates comfortable enough to be scanned for future exams. We're sure Tracy Moegenburg meets some interesting folks in her work as a sonographer at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. But even the more colorful characters might have a hard time keeping up with those she meets when she takes her skills down the road to her regular Wednesday gig. There, her patients are gorillas, bonobos, lemurs and other furrier primates. "I love it," Moegenburg tells us. "It's the most incredible thing I get to do."

For the past six years, Moegenburg has used her scanning skills to help Jacksonville Zoo officials track and monitor the animals' pregnancies. She's also helping provide clues to something of a medical mystery: Why are great apes like those at the zoo at an especially high risk for heart disease. "We're still trying to figure out why they're predisposed," Tracy Fenn, the zoo's supervisor of mammals, tells the Florida Times-Union in a recent feature that highlights the zoo's role in the Great Ape Heart Project.

Moegenburg's skills as a sonographer have been coming in handy since the zoo's veterinarian first called Mayo to see if anyone would be willing to help train the primates for their health exams.  "At the time, a couple of our radiologists who had been going out there every now and again had heard that I'd been scanning some cats and dogs for a few local vets, so they asked if I'd be interested," Moegenburg says.

Since then, Moegenburg's been helping the zoo's trainers learn how to properly position ultrasound probes, as well as helping  the zoo's primates learn how to become good patients. "Heart disease is such a major risk factor for them that trying to train them to sit for an exam is crucial to their health," Moegenburg tells us. "If they can sit and do their exams without sedation, then they don't have the risk of dying under anesthesia. It's just more beneficial for them to be awake." Getting to that point has been an ongoing game of patience, repetition, and steady rewards. (Like it is for us with Cory.)

The hope is that when it comes time for their real exams, the primates will be comfortable enough to allow Moegenburg to scan them. That will let her send their health data to the Great Ape Heart Project, "a centralized database for veterinarians and other zoo professionals" that's working to "study heart disease in great apes and improve treatment methods," according to the paper.

It's an ongoing effort that Moegenburg tells us she feels honored to have a part in. "I love it so much," she says. "I get to hand-feed gorillas and play with the baby gorillas and the bonobos and the lemurs whenever I scan them. It's been an awesome six years so far." (And equally awesome for the animals and their health, we assume.)

You can read more about how Moegenburg's work is helping the Jacksonville Zoo here. Then, be sure to help us by sharing your comments below, and sharing this story with others via the social media tools atop this page.

Tags: Community, Community, Employee Stories, Sonography, Tracy Moegenburg, Zoo

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