When Daniel, a 12-year-old Bornean orangutan at the Phoenix Zoo had trouble breathing, veterinarians invited a local ear, nose and throat doctor to give him a checkup.
Daniel, like many orangutans, has struggled with respiratory disease his entire life. Veterinarians said he often comes down with bouts of sinusitis and air sacculitis, but when treating the symptoms didn't help, the zoo knew they had to address the problem with surgery.
While Dr. Daniel Simms, of Arizona Otolaryngology Consultants, is an expert ENT doctor for humans, he has never been invited to operate on apes before.
He explained an orangutan's nasal cavity is similar to humans, but he studied up on CT scans of the ape's skull to better prepare him for the surgery, and it was a success!
Some Images May Be Graphic
The following images of Daniel the Bornean orangutan undergoing surgery may be disturbing to some viewers.
Daniel the orangutan arrived at the Phoenix Zoo in 2013. He is one of four Bornean orangutans at the zoo. Previously, he lived at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and easily made the transition to his new habitat.
Daniel spends his days swinging on ropes, climbing on structures, frolicking in the grass and interacting with guests at the zoo through the glass.
Daniel Gets Treated for Nasal Conditions
Daniel has always struggled with his respiratory health, zookeepers said. To treat the condition, veterinarians administer a nasal spray in Daniel's nose, which is more effective than an allergy pill.
Zookeepers Transport Daniel Into Surgery
While veterinarians have worked to treat the symptoms of Daniel's respiratory conditions in the past, they knew it was time to try a long-term solution through surgery when his nasal infections infections kept returning.
Surgeons and Veterinarians Prepare for Surgery
Daniel is under general anesthesia as veterinarians prepare to operate.
A Doctor Prepares for Surgery
Because the surgery has never been conducted on an orangutan in the U.S. before, a special team consisting of veterinarians and ENT specialists for humans were brought together to come up with a plan of action.
"I thought I was getting pranked," ENT specialist Dr. David Simms said.
Surgeons Pay Close Attention During Surgery
"We are fortunate that we found an incredibly talented team willing to take on this complicated surgical procedure," said Dr. Gary West of the Phoenix Zoo.
Surgeons Watch Intently as Daniel Undergoes Surgery
This is the first time a sinus operation has been performed on an orangutan in the United States. The surgery has only been performed a handful of times, most notably in the U.K. and Switzerland, around the world.
Daniel Is Sedated During the Surgery
Respiratory illnesses and especially sinus infections are common in orangutans, the zoo said.
A Surgeon Makes an Incision
While Dr. David Simms has performed the procedure on thousands of humans, he has never operated on an ape. In addition to reviewing CT scans, he familiarized himself with Daniel's skull by creating a life-sized model using a 3D printer.
Daniel on the Operating Table During His Surgery
The goal of the operation was to reduce the build-up of pus in his respiratory system, according to Dr. Jeff Steurer.
Surgeons Operate on Daniel's Respiratory System
Veterinarians said had they not operated, his respiratory disease would have worsened and posed a risk to his life.
Daniel's Hand Lays Still During Surgery
Bornean orangutans are considered a critically endangered species, with their habitat threatened by deforestation.
Surgeons Operate on Daniel
In order to permanently address his respiratory problems, surgeons created a permanent opening in his sinuses that would prevent new infections.
Doctors Operate on Their Beloved Bornean Orangutan
"We performed a marsupialization of the air sac, creating a permanent opening to help prevent reinfection," said Dr. Jeff Steurer.
Surgeons Stitch Up an Incision
"It may look a little odd and unsettling, but the end result will allow for continued drainage, thus preventing the buildup of the purulent material and the respiratory signs that are associated with it," Dr. Steurer said.
Doctors Celebrate After a Job Well Done
Mary Yoder, the zoo's manager of primates, confirmed Daniel is back to his normal self following the surgery.
Zookeepers Return Daniel to His Enclosure
"He is doing fantastic," Yoder said. "He is active, his appetite has returned, he is engaging with guests and enjoys training with the animal keepers. He is back to his playful self."
Daniel Is Returned to His Outdoor Enclosure.
Veterinarians and zookeepers say Daniel's surgery will prevent any other respiratory issues from arising in the future, helping him live a healthy and long life.
Daniel Is Back to His Normal Self
Shortly after his surgery, zookeepers snapped a photo of Daniel enjoying the grassy fields in his enclosure.