Best in SA health care swing into action for Orangutan operation

Gallstones are painful for humans but how does a 46 year-old Sumatran Orangutan let you know they are not feeling well? In addition, where does a Sumatran Orangutan go to have stones removed?

“Back in May, Sumatran Orangutan Puspa was looking far from her usual self for a few days. At one stage there, even a call from her favourite keepers couldn’t rouse her,” said Veterinarian David McLelland.

“Initially, we thought that Puspa might have been suffering from a reproductive tract problem, but couldn’t be sure without anaesthetising her to investigate further.

“Even though she recovered well from that initial episode, we decided to anaesthetise her for a full health check. Puspa is now an older lady, and it was preferable to do this while she was otherwise well in herself rather than wait for her to become unwell again.

“Once under anaesthetic, we transported her to SAHMRI’s Preclinical, Imaging and Research Laboratories (PIRL) for a CT scan, along with a complete range of blood tests, and a thorough physical exam. For this procedure we consulted with human gynaecologists, had rheumatologists and an occupational therapist from Uni SA investigate some concerns in her hands and feet, and had Anthony Nicholson, veterinary anaesthetist at the University of Adelaide, assisting.

“Xander Huising, veterinary diagnostic imaging specialist, helped with the CT scan, which revealed a number of gallstones, along with inflammation of the bile duct and gallbladder, but no reproductive tract abnormalities.

“We knew that it was in Puspa’s best interests to have surgery, so we were delighted to have Dr John Chen, Director of SA Liver Transplant Unit at Flinders Medical Centre, and Dr Eu Ling Neo, Head of Hepatopancreatobiliary Surgery at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, agree to assist us.

“We discussed the pros and cons of the various procedures performed in humans with gallstones, based on the CT findings and on our patient being an orangutan.

“The approach we decided on gave us the best chance of removing all the stones and the gallbladder in one procedure and minimise the risk of complications during and after surgery.

“The wonderful team at SAHMRi-PIRL again allowed us to use their facilities for the surgery. Puspa could not have been in better hands on the operating table with Dr Chen and Dr Neo volunteering their time to perform the surgery, with assistance from Kerryn Carter, scrub nurse at Flinders Private Hospital. A number of required consumables were also donated by Flinders Private Hospital.

“Additionally, the procedure was greatly enhanced by the use of a high tech videoscope, made available to us by Endotherapeutics Pty Ltd, to allow detailed exploration of the bile duct.

“Surgery was definitely the right decision. The surgeons removed nine sizeable gallstones along with a very unhappy looking gallbladder. You have to think Puspa will feel better to be relieved of all that. And it has been so great to be able to pull together such a fabulous and diverse team to provide Puspa with the best possible care.

“Puspa has recovered very well since surgery under the watchful eye of her wonderful keepers, and has been very good at leaving her stitches alone. While she can’t tell us directly that she is feeling better, she is eating really well and has been out and about and climbing,” finished David.

Puspa was born at Perth Zoo on 30 January 1975. She lived at Adelaide Zoo briefly from 1978-81 before returning permanently in 2011.

Orangutans are the largest tree-dwelling mammal on earth. Humans share 97% of our DNA with orangutans and the species is considered by many scientists to be the smartest of all the great apes.

It’s estimated that there are only around 7,000 wild orangutans. It is suggested that they could become extinct within the next ten years as the population continues to decline by as many as 1,000 a year.

The greatest threat to the Sumatran Orangutan is habitat loss caused primarily by logging, forest conversion for agriculture and the clearing of land for unsustainable palm oil plantations. Legislation in Sumatra prohibits the owning, killing or capturing of orangutans, but poachers still hunt them, primarily for the illegal wildlife trade.

Orangutans are facing extinction due to the unsustainable production of palm oil, an ingredient found in around half of all supermarket products.

Zoos South Australia works alongside sixteen other zoo-based conservation and wildlife organisations across Australia and New Zealand to drive the global transition to Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

The mission of the Responsible Palm Oil Network is to work with Australasian manufacturers to move to using Certified Sustainable Palm Oil and to introduce clear palm oil labelling.

Visitors can see Sumatran Orangutans Puspa and Kluet at Adelaide Zoo. Visitors must be double vaccinated to attend (or exempt) and are requested to book online at

Zoos SA is teaming up with SAHMRI again at the ANZ Community Ball on Saturday 5 March, 2022. Other charities to benefit from the night of SA Wine, delicious food and entertainment from James Morrison and his Motown band include Operation Flinders, Jodi Lee Foundation, Royal Flying Doctor Service Central Operations, and Hutt St Centre. Tickets available from TryBooking.


The day is here!Monarto Safari Park’s new Visitor Centre is open to the public from 9.30am. #thewildiscalling

About Zoos SA

Zoos SA is a not-for-profit conservation charity that exists to connect people with nature and save species from extinction.

Zoos SA acknowledges the Country on which we stand always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land and we pay our deepest respect and gratitude to Kaurna (Adelaide Zoo) and Ngarrindjeri (Monarto Safari Park) Elders, past, present and emerging.

We undertake critical conservation work throughout Australia and acknowledge the traditional custodians of these lands.


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