Jabari, the Philadelphia Zoo gorilla who was paired up with female Kira to produce offspring but died unexpectedly last month, had an acute severe bacterial infection on the back of his tongue, causing him to suffocate and die from swelling, zoo officials said this weekend.
Zoo veterinarians said Jabari's windpipe was blocked due to the swelling; after receiving anesthesia, he fell asleep, and the blocked airway prevented oxygen from reaching his lungs.
When vets realized Jabari wasn't breathing they performed an emergency tracheotomy, but he couldn't be resuscitated.
The pathologist who performed Jabari's necropsy discovered a small wound underneath his tongue and said it could have been a piece of plant or twig that nicked him.
"Bacteria normally found in the mouth could have entered the tissues under the tongue through this wound and spread over a two- to three-day period," said Keith Hinshaw, the zoo's senior veterinarian. "A human with this type of infection would go immediately to a hospital for treatment because of the discomfort, but a wild animal such as a gorilla will often try to hide their symptoms in order not to appear weak to other animals, and by the time they show signs of illness the infection can be life-threatening."
Jabari, a 28-year-old western lowland gorilla, had before his death mated with female newcomer Kira in the hopes of starting a family. Zoo officials said Kira is not showing signs of pregnancy but more tests will be taken during her next ovulation to confirm.