Children's Hospital Conducts Hearing Test on Gorilla After Keepers Suspected She Was Deaf

"When [a staff member] came in, turned the lights on, made noise, clapped her hands, Kumbuka was still snoring away, she didn't even stir," the zoo said.

Most kids go through a hearing test growing up, so when zookeepers suspected Kumbuka the gorilla was hard of hearing, they turned to a local children’s hospital to conduct a routine exam on her, even if she was a little bigger than their average patient.

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Zookeepers at the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida began to suspect Kumbuka, a 20-year-old Western Lowland gorilla, might be deaf after zookeepers had a hard time waking her up in the mornings.

“When [a staff member] came in, turned the lights on, made noise, clapped her hands, Kumbuka was still snoring away, she didn’t even stir,” said Dan Maloney, deputy director of animal care and conservation at the zoo. “That’s when they really thought she couldn’t hear.”

They decided to look into bringing Kumbuka in for a hearing test during her routine medical exams, when she would be put under anesthesia.

Luckily, the Nemours Children’s Health System was happy to take on the patient.

"To be able to do a test I do on children all the time, it took my breath away, because you see them at such a distance when you see them at the zoo in the enclosure area, but when you walk up to that table, and that gorilla is massive and you’re touching the gorilla, it’s unbelievable," pediatric audiologist Christine Cook said in footage provided by the hospital.

Maloney explained to they were able to use the same equipment they use on children to inspect the structure of Kumbuka’s ear: “They were able to send in a series of tones and see how the ear drum was responding to that.”

As they suspected, they determined her ears did not respond to the noises, and she was likely totally deaf.

"My heart breaks for her,” Maloney said. "Kumbuka doesn’t behave in the typical way that a gorilla would – she wants to be closer to [her troop], they're such social animals."

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But, he explained her keepers can now adjust their interactions with Kumbuka now that they know her diagnosis.

"The keepers can communicate with her [using] light and hand gestures," Maloney said. "She certainly responds to colors, and they’ll train with her to make the association. Gorillas pick up on things very quickly."

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