JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA — Shortly after arriving at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in 2014, zookeepers began to have suspicions that their new gorilla, Kumbuka, was having trouble hearing. Those suspicions were ultimately confirmed late last week, thanks to a group of veterinarians and experts at Nemours Children’s Hospital, who diagnosed Kumbuka with profound hearing loss.
Kumbuka’s hearing was evaluated by Nemours’ pediatric audiologist, Christine Cook, using the same tools used to test human hearing — such as Otoacoustic emmissions (OAE) and Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR). This testing was possible due to the fact that gorilla’s auditory system is very similar to that of humans.
Audiologist: “Once in a Lifetime Patient”
In a child diagnosed with profound hearing loss, often the recommendation would be for a cochlear implant to restore hearing, however with Kumbuka, this is not an option.
“This is the first time a gorilla has been tested for hearing. It’s something that I do every day with my patients at Nemours but this was the chance of a lifetime, in my opinion. Walking up to her for the first time, it took my breath away. Theoretically, we thought we would get the same results as we do with babies, and everything ran smoothly.”
–Christine Cook, MS, Pediatric Audiologist, Nemours
The information gathered from last week’s test will help guide zookeepers on future care for Kumbuka, who already knows some hand signals, and help improve her quality of life.