Design by Younji Jin

When Dr. Marcus Jarboe, director of Pediatric Minimally Invasive Surgery at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, was approached by the Detroit Zoo to perform a therapeutic surgery on a newborn chimpanzee, he jumped at the opportunity to heal a non-traditional patient.

The premature chimp, named Zane, had developed an inguinal hernia — a painful bulge of tissue that develops in the groin region — five weeks after he was born, in January 2020. For unclear reasons, Zane’s mother didn’t show any interest in her newborn, so the caretaker team began taking extra care of Zane in his early weeks. After Dr. Ann Duncan, director of Animal Health at the Detroit Zoo, and the team discovered Zane’s inguinal hernia, they reached out to Mott for help.

“Chimpanzee anatomy and human anatomy are very similar and the equipment needed for neonatal patients is specialized,” Duncan wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily. “For these reasons, we contacted a human pediatric surgeon with expertise in non-invasive laparoscopic repair techniques.”  

Contrary to the open hernia repair, the laparoscopic method allows the surgeon to visualize the hernia defect without making a large incision over the operating site. A camera called a laparoscope is inserted through the incision, and the surgeon uses the image relayed on a monitor to guide doctors as they perform the procedure. 

For his first non-human surgery, Jarboe said he decided to use the laparoscopic method because of his expertise in minimally invasive surgery. He also said the scope helps to better visualize the anatomy.

“I do most of my (surgeries)laparoscopic and I think the hernia is easier to do laparoscopic,” Jarboe said. “I could figure out the anatomy easier with the scope.”

Jarboe also said pediatric surgeons have much expertise in performing surgery on human patients that are of similar size to Zane, so many of the procedures can be similarly performed on primate animals.

“Zane was somewhere around three kilograms,” Jarboe said. “It’s the same size we usually operate on.”

In addition to two pediatric anesthesiologists assisting with the surgery, Jarboe said he invited senior pediatric surgeon Dr. Ronald Hirschl and two pediatric anesthesiologists to perform the surgery with him. He said inviting the pediatric anesthesiologists was important because of their expertise in inserting the endotracheal tube so the patient can breathe during surgery. 

“The vets can get airways on bigger types of animals,” Jarboe said. “But on a chimp this size, it’s really hard to get an airway. Our anesthesiologists are really used to it. It’s well within their comfort zone.”

According to Duncan, she talked on the phone with the surgeon several times and traveled to the University of Michigan to pick up the equipment since the surgery was performed at the zoo. 

Zane recovered very quickly, Duncan said. A chimp named Trixi showed strong interest in Zane and became his surrogate mother. With the company of his new friend Bubbles — the second oldest chimp in the community — and his older sister Jane, Zane integrated with the troop well. He recently celebrated his second birthday, according to Duncan.

Duncan wrote in an email to the Daily this was not the first time the Detroit Zoo had worked with medical experts in human medicine.

“Over the years we have worked with a number of veterinary and human medical specialists,” Duncan wrote. “It’s more common for us to work with veterinarians. However, we’ve worked with human urologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists and anesthesiologists, most often when our patients are chimpanzees or gorillas.”

Duncan also said the collaboration between human medicine and veterinary medicine is critical to the advancement of both fields. 

“There’s a lot of overlap between human and veterinary medicine,” Duncan wrote. “One Health collaborations allow advances in both realms.”

LSA sophomore Ava Ryder, a pre-vet student, said she thought the story was very heartwarming. She also said even though veterinary medicine and human medicine are traditionally viewed separately, the collaboration between the two fields is beneficial to society.

Ryder said she plans to work in the crossover research field after veterinary school and hopes to specialize in oncology. 

“I actually plan on working in the crossover research field (in the future),” Ryder said. “I’d like to specialize in oncology… in hopes to find cures to human cancers as well as the cancers… in the animals that I’m treating.”

Ryder added that she was able to attend two veterinary medicine discovery programs in high school, and that experience inspired her to pursue crossover research.

“I’ve always been interested in doing research as well as helping animals,” Ryder said. “But if I can help more than just animals, that is an even greater achievement that I will strive to get to.”

Daily Staff Reporter Jingqi Zhu can be reached at