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Nemours Pediatric Specialists Perform First of Its Kind Hearing Test on Gorilla

at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Friday, Mar 10, 2017


When the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens suspected that one of their Western Lowland Gorillas, Kumbuka, wasn’t able to hear, they asked for assistance from pediatric specialists at Nemours Children’s Health System to diagnose the nearly 300 pound primate.

On Thursday, March 9, after a hearing exam from Christine Cook, MS, CCC-A, Pediatric Audiologist and Drew Horlbeck, MD, Pediatric Otologist from Nemours Children’s Health System, it was confirmed that Kumbuka is indeed deaf in both ears.

"This is something that I do everyday with my patients at Nemours but this was the chance of a lifetime in my opinion," said Cook. "Walking up to her for the first time, it took my breath away."

Not long after Kumbuka arrived at the Zoo in 2014, zookeepers began to suspect that she may have hearing loss in a similar fashion to how you may get indications from a small child — not responding to their own name, needing someone in front of them before recognizing that they are present, etc.

Dr. Horlbeck used an otoscope to look into the gorilla’s ears to see if there were any obvious signs of abnormality or blockage but found none. "A gorilla’s ears are structured very similarly to a typical human’s ears, only theirs are darker and definitely a lot more hairy," he said.

The audiology department at Nemours in Jacksonville sees nearly 6,000 children annually to test for hearing loss. This is the first documented gorilla hearing test of its kind.

The hearing testing was part of a larger health screening that Kumbuka underwent while fully sedated. Other testing was completed by other specialists who will complete the routine portion of her exam. Unfortunately there isn’t much that can be done to restore her hearing however the Zoo’s keepers can use this knowledge to improve her overall quality of life.

"Now that Kumbuka’s deafness has been confirmed, we will continue to work helping her to improve her quality of life by having the keepers incorporate more visual queues than would typically be used and ultimately help her become a great mom which is the ultimate goal," said Meredith Persky, DVM, Veterinarian at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

About Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

For over 100 years, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has aimed to inspire the discovery and appreciation of wildlife through innovative experiences in a caring environment. Starting in 1914 with an animal collection of one red deer fawn, the Zoo now has more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and 1,000 species of plants, boasting the largest botanical garden in Northeast Florida. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a nonprofit organization and a portion of every ticket sold goes to the over 45 conservation initiatives Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens supports around the world, and here in NE Florida. JZG is proud to be an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. For more information, visit

About Nemours

Nemours is an internationally recognized children's health system that owns and operates the two free-standing children’s hospitals: the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando, Fla., along with outpatient facilities in five states, delivering pediatric primary, specialty and urgent care. Nemours also powers the world’s most-visited website for information on the health of children and teens,, and offers on-demand, online video patient visits through Nemours CareConnect. Nemours is a program dedicated to preventing reading failure in young children, grounded in Nemours’ understanding that child health and learning are inextricably linked, and that reading level is a strong predictor of adult health.

Established as The Nemours Foundation through the legacy and philanthropy of Alfred I. duPont, Nemours provides pediatric clinical care, research, education, advocacy and prevention programs to families in the communities it serves.