Denver Zoo orangutan with breathing problems better at grooming (& sex?) with new treatment

For years, Denver Zoo orangutan Mias looked sad. "He was definitely lethargic and slower," says Tiffany Barnhart, zoo spokeswoman. "We'd see him holding his head off in the corner and not participating in things with his mate." But lately, things are looking up for Mias. Why? Because of fancy medical science usually reserved for humans.

Mias, who is 27 years old, was diagnosed with chronic airsacculitis, a complex orangutan respiratory disease that may be similar to cystic fibrosis in humans, Barnhart says. Since his arrival at the Denver Zoo in 1997, the zoo's vets watched him struggle with symptoms that resemble a head cold and constantly searched for a treatment that would work.

Then, Barnhart says, one of the staffers went to a conference where she heard a vet from Zoo Atlanta talk about using a nebulizer to treat similar symptoms in one of their orangutans. When she returned to Denver, the vet began calling around to doctors and pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to get one for Mias. PARI Pharma, a German company that makes aerosol drug inhalation devices, volunteered.

For the past month, Mias has been using his new eFlow Technology nebulizer twice a day -- with zookeepers' help. "He probably could do it himself, but we just don't know what he would do to that expensive piece of equipment when he's done," Barnhart explains. The zoo calls the results "amazing." Mias is alert and active and has even begun grooming his mate, Nias, which was a rare sight before the treatments.

Grooming is nice and all -- nobody likes to be covered in dead skin and parasites. But has the nebulizer improved Mias and Nias's, er, intimate times? Barnhart says she isn't sure. "I don't know what their sex life is like recently," she says. "They were doing all right before. They had a baby." Indeed, in June of last year, Nias gave birth to baby Hesty. If there is an slump in Mias and Nias' sex life lately, Barnhart suggests it might be more on Nias's end. "Like a lot of new moms, she might not be into it," she says, joking.

See more photos of nebulizing (and baby Hesty!) below.

More from our News archives: "Denver Zoo welcomes four red ruffed (and endangered) (and effing cute!) lemurs."

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