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Our vet team saved the life of a monkey twice in one afternoon – with the help of the Bee Gees.

When the four year old female Hamadryas baboon, named Aunt Bessie, collapsed and her heart stopped, head vet Ghislaine Sayers performed external cardiac massage – with the Bee Gees song “Staying Alive” playing in her head:

“A baboon’s heart rate is similar to that of a young human - the British Heart Foundation’s TV commercial used the song because it’s a good prompt for the rate of cardiac massage, even for trained professionals!”

Aunt Bessie was rushed to the Zoo’s in-house Vet Centre by concerned keepers after she collapsed before Christmas. Ghislaine: “The keepers were catching up a young female baboon called Houdini with an injured tail so that we could treat her. Suddenly, Aunt Bessie collapsed.”

Ghislaine responded, along with vet nurse Sonya Gadhia and mammal keepers Kate Jenner and Catherine Steart. “Aunt Bessie was brought to the vet centre unconscious. She was thin and dehydrated, with negligible blood glucose and low blood pressure causing a slow heart rate and weak pulse.

“We immediately gave her glucose and fluids to give her energy and rehydrate her and put her on a ventilator, which effectively did the breathing for her. When her heart suddenly stopped, out came the emergency kit and the adrenalin and we started external cardiac massage.

“Her heart started beating again and although it was still weak, it gave us the chance to get some more fluids in, check her glucose levels again and start her on some intravenous antibiotics. Just as we thought we were getting somewhere her heart stopped again.

“At this point you start to wonder whether anything you do will make a difference, but you have to keep trying when you believe there is still a chance. After more adrenaline, cardiac massage and a dose of corticosteroids, she suddenly turned a corner. Almost an hour after arriving at the vet centre her heart was beating steadily at a normal rate and her pulse was stronger.”

The team continued to give her fluids to make sure she was fully hydrated. They also took the chance to take x-rays and give her a thorough clinical examination, taking blood samples and repeatedly checking blood glucose levels.

Ghislaine again: “A few hours later Aunt Bessie was sitting in a warm enclosure in the Vet Centre taking food and fluids from us. She stayed in the Vet Centre over Christmas and the New Year, in the warm with plenty of extra food, lots of enrichment to play with and Houdini, the younger baboon with the injured tail, for company. Aunt Bessie put on a lot of weight over that period – probably like a lot of us!”

Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “To save a life once is amazing – to save the same life twice is truly exceptional!”

Aunt Bessie and Houdini forged a friendship during their recuperation. When they were introduced back into the troop, Houdini was welcomed by her dad, Ben, and her mum. Even better, Aunt Bessie, who was a low-ranking female without a family group, was accepted by them, too, improving her status in the troop.

Hamadryas baboons were sacred to the ancient Egyptians and pictured on temples and tombs. They were also mummified and entombed. They can be found in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia.

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