Cincinnati Zoo Vets Work with Cincinnati Children’s, UC Health, and GE Additive to Help Injured Gorilla

Posted April 18, 2024

CINCINNATI, OH (April 18, 2024) —Eleven-year-old gorilla Gladys is recovering behind the scenes in Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Gorilla World after undergoing surgery on Sunday to repair a broken humerus.  She sustained the injury last Friday during a scuffle with the younger two females in her troop. 

“It’s not unusual for gorillas to have altercations, and this one was actually a minor squabble,” said Victoria McGee, Cincinnati Zoo’s Zoological Manager of Primates. “She must have fallen in just the wrong way to break her arm, but the result was a complete, oblique facture of her distal humerus.”  

Video | photos 

A break like the one Gladys suffered is not a common injury at the Zoo, so the vet staff enlisted the expertise of top surgeons from Cincinnati Children’s and anesthesiologists from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine 

“Post-operative pain is of great concern for primates and humans alike. As a team we developed a plan that utilized multi-modal analgesics to ensure that Gladys was comfortable throughout the perioperative period,” said Dr. Sajen Alexander, instructor of anesthesiology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and a UC Health anesthesiologist.  

Dr. Alexander and his colleague, Dr. Chelsey Thomas, monitored Gladys while the Zoo veterinarian team and surgeons from Cincinnati Children’s performed an operation to repair her fracture and applied a temporary cast to provide stability until a stronger, gorilla-proof cast can be made. 

“Gladys is naturally curious about her new cast, and she doesn’t fully understand the need to preserve it for her recovery,” explained Dr. Mike Wenninger, Cincinnati Zoo’s Director of Animal Health. “So, we turned to our friends at GE [Additive] to help us create a sturdier cast.” 


GE Additive is working to create a custom 3D-printed cast for Gladys.  The additive cast will be titanium, which is more durable than a traditional cast to prevent her from re-injuring her arm during the healing process. 

“We see this sort of fracture in kids all the time,” said Dr. Kevin Little, one of the orthopedic surgeons from Cincinnati Children’s who helped perform the operation. “This is a bit more complicated because gorillas have a lot of muscle and bigger, denser bones. Despite these challenges, we were thrilled with the success of the operation and thankful for the multidisciplinary and cross-institutional teamwork that made it possible.”   

“Gorillas hang from their arms, which is very different from a lot of the pediatric patients we care for. It’s also difficult to help Gladys understand what we have done surgically and why we need to protect the repair,” said Dr. Jaime Denning, Orthopedic Surgeon Liaison for Trauma at Cincinnati Children’s. “That’s why we needed to use heavier-duty equipment and a stronger cast. We look forward to seeing Gladys get back to hanging once she heals.”  

Zoo veterinarians and human surgeons are pleased with how the surgery went and optimistic that the screws and plates that were placed in Gladys’ elbow will hold the bone in the right position. 

“As a level 1 pediatric trauma center, we care for children with various injury-related needs every day. We’re so proud to leverage that expertise to help our close neighbors at the Cincinnati Zoo,” said Dr. Meera Kotagal, Director of Trauma Services and pediatric surgeon from Cincinnati Children’s who helped coordinate their surgical team and assisted with the procedure. Kotagal is also the current chair of the Zoo’s Ambassador Council. “Caring for Gladys was a privilege for our team, and we’re grateful to be part of the tradition of ongoing close collaboration between Cincinnati Children’s and the Cincinnati Zoo.”  

Gladys will be behind the scenes for at least six more weeks.  Her care team is monitoring her closely and providing around-the-clock observation and treatments to make sure that she is getting nutrients, liquids, and pain medications. They are supporting her comfort level with the process, while also distracting her as needed to prevent the temporary cast from being destroyed.  

“GE Additive is planning to deliver the cast tomorrow morning, which is less than a week turnaround time from our initial request,” said Dr. Wenninger. “I’m amazed that the GE Additive team was able to take the requirements that we provided to model the design, print, and post-process the titanium cast in such a short time!  We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with human medical and engineering experts to provide the best possible care for Gladys.” 

Gladys should be fitted with the cast in the next day or two.  The Zoo will continue to provide updates on her progress. 

gladys gorilla cast

About Gladys: 

Gladys was born on January 29, 2013, at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. Her mother, a first-time mom, was unsure what to do with the infant, so keepers stepped in to help. They did not have any viable surrogate gorilla parents to put Gladys with, but Cincinnati Zoo did. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Western Lowland Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) Committee made the recommendation for her to move to Cincinnati, where keepers lived with her 24/7, teaching her to act and think like a gorilla. They fed Gladys, held her to their chest, and eventually even carried her on their backs.  They explored every nook of the habitat, both inside and out, and were even seen knuckle-walking with Gladys in the yard.  During their 8-hour shifts they wore all black scrubs and black faux fur vests, to imitate gorilla fur and they even vocalized like a gorilla, teaching Gladys what the different sounds mean. She was placed with surrogate gorilla mom M’Linzi when she was ready and stayed with her for many years. See Gorillafication of Gladys video. 

gladys gorilla as a baby

Visitors can see the other gorillas during regular zoo hours – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.  Members get Early Entry and are welcome to enter the Zoo at 9 a.m. Memberships are on sale now, so join the Zoo at a discounted price and enjoy all the perks.    

DID YOU KNOW…. You pay more than $10 less per ticket, on select days, when you purchase tickets online!  That’s a $40 savings for a family of 4! 

child at glass looking at gorilla