Operation Gorilla

May 10th, 2013

The life of a gorilla has been transformed after an operation carried out by a surgeon from the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Dr Sandra Corr joined a team of UK vets on their annual visit to Ape Action Africa in Cameroon. The seven-day mission to one of the country’s leading primate sanctuaries was led by Sharon Redrobe, Zoological Director of Twycross Zoo, who is also a clinical associate of the Vet School.

Their primary mission was to perform follow-up surgery on 10-year-old Shufai, who has been living at the sanctuary since he was shot in the wrist as a baby when poachers opened fire on his mother. But pre-surgery X-rays showed the damage to his wrist had worsened and the vets had to make the difficult decision to amputate his arm above the elbow.

The operating theatre at the sanctuary is an adapted school classroom with plastic sheeting for walls, so they had to sterilise all their surgical equipment in the UK and take it over in sealed bags to prevent contamination. Stifling temperatures and high humidity made the working environment difficult and the risk of infection during the three-hour operation was a major concern.

Dr Corr, who had to make the decision to amputate the arm, said: “This was a big change to our original plan. We had intended to straighten the arm but we realised this wasn’t going to relieve the pain he was in. Amputating the arm was a very difficult decision to make but we had to do what was right for Shufai. There was initial disappointment but the operation, in very basic conditions, was a real team effort and a great success — spectacularly so.”

Sharon Redrobe said: “Since returning from Cameroon reports from the sanctuary tell me Shufai is healing well from his surgery, and he has even been spotted in the forest chest-beating with one arm. The speed with which he has adapted shows us he hadn’t really been using the arm for months.”

As well as Shufai’s operation the team also carried out health checks and cardiac ultrasounds on several chimpanzees and silverback gorillas.

Dr Corr said: “This was a very special week, and I was really encouraged not only to see Shufai walking the morning after the operation, but actually able to climb, with surprising ease.”

Twycross Zoo is the World Primate Centre and cares for more than 35 species of primate, many of which are critically endangered in the wild due to poaching and habitat loss. The zoo takes part in European and international breeding programmes and has over 200 species enrolled in captive breeding programmes. The zoo contributes to conservation in the wild through its Conservation Welfare Fund, which since 2006 has contributed nearly £200,000 to more than 40 conservation and welfare projects around the world.

Ape Action Africa works on the front line to address the threats faced by gorillas and chimps in Africa, and works with communities to develop long-term solutions to ensure their survival in the wild.

To see a video of Shufai visit

Dr Sandra Corr, Sharon Redrobe from Tywcross Zoo and AAA trust Director  Rachel Hogan are raising money to build a small hospital at the Ape Action Africa sanctuary in Cameroon. It will enable vets to offer better care for primates and also to perform operations on animals such as cats and dogs. The hospital will cost around £5,000 to £10,000. To support the appeal, Sandra and Sharon are running the 10k race at the Loch Ness Marathon in September. Rachel is running the full marathon. To support the appeal, visit

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