A primate recovering from surgery at Paignton Zoo has been doing physiotherapy without knowing it.

The mandrill received surgery before being given physiotherapy Photo credit: Paignton Zoo.

Experts took the mandrill, named Jumba, for an MRI scan, spinal tap and neurological assessment at Cave Veterinary Specialists near Wellington in Somerset, after she became unwell.

The primate had developed weakness in her arms and legs and was struggling with coordination. Staff gave her anti-inflammatories, but took her to specialists when she didn’t respond quickly enough – as they were worried she may have a spinal cord abnormality, such as a slipped disc. 

She is now on the mend, but staff have been introducing crafty physiotherapy sessions to help build up her strength.

Paignton Zoo vet nurse Celine Campana said: “I spoke to my sister, who is a child occupational therapist, and she backed up what we already knew. It’s all about encouraging muscle movement and control. Children are encouraged to pick up and place items accurately. You can’t explain the importance of physiotherapy to a mandrill, so you have to be a bit clever.  

“We have used food items to manipulate the movement of her limbs. We’ve placed obstacles in her way to get her to manoeuvre her legs over boxes and logs. We’ve smeared apple and nice treats on high branches, which she then had to pull herself up to reach – strengthening her upper arms”.

Keepers Cat Steart and Nadia Gould put food in boxes that Jumba had to manipulate to access. They also made vegetable kebab sticks that she had to grasp while she fed. The challenge, they reported, was to make sure she was getting enough food.  

Speaking about the specialist treatment the primate received, Tom Cave of Cave Vet Specialists said: “Jumba had an MRI and spinal tap that were both normal. She then had an electromyogram to test electrical activity in her nerves and muscles. This showed she had a peripheral neuropathy, which means messages between her nerves and muscle were not transmitted normally. She was started on medication and has made great improvements.”   

Jumba has now been reintroduced successfully into the mandrill troop.

Paignton Zoo veterinary associate Joanna Reynard said: “This has been a great team effort between Cave Veterinary Specialists, Burgess, who did the MRI scan, our vet team and the keepers. The MRI made all the difference. Cave were great – both vet nurse Emma Bennett and neurologist Lorna Arrol played a big part in Jumba’s recovery. We are very grateful for their help and expertise.”

For more information visit: www.paigntonzoo.org.uk

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