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Zoo Says TB Probably Killed Rare Chinese Monkey

Times Staff Writer

San Diego Zoo officials have acknowledged that a rare Chinese golden monkey on loan from China died last month, probably of tuberculosis.

Tissue samples from the monkey’s liver, kidney and lymphatic system have been sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Ames, Iowa, to confirm the zoo’s preliminary findings, zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett said Wednesday.

He said a needle biopsy on the monkey, a 14- or 15-year-old female called Jing Tong, “indicated the possibility of tuberculosis.” However, the exact cause of death will not be determined until two veterinarians representing the China Wildlife Conservation Assn. arrive in about two weeks to help conduct a full autopsy.

As a precaution, all zoo employees who have been in contact with the golden monkeys are being tested for tuberculosis, Jouett said. Of 22 people tested, 17 have tested negative and five were still waiting results Wednesday.

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Transmitted Through the Air

“Tuberculosis is transmitted from monkeys to humans and from humans to monkeys through the air. It requires close and prolonged contact. . . . visitors to the zoo are not at risk,” Jouett said.

Jing Tong, along with a male and another female golden monkey, was on a two-year breeding loan from China that is to expire in April. They are the only Chinese golden monkeys currently in the United States. In 1985, the zoo received on loan the first pair of golden monkeys ever exhibited outside of China.

After Jing Tong’s companions are returned to China, zoo officials hope to negotiate a permanent trade and receive another pair of golden monkeys.

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Three Tibetan macaques, another endangered monkey, tested positive for tuberculosis at the zoo last year and were put to death because of the danger of contamination, Jouett said.

No Conclusive Evidence

“Both the Tibetan macaques and the Chinese golden monkeys come from Asia and there may be some link there but--and I stress--they haven’t conclusively found that the Chinese golden monkey had tuberculosis,” Jouett said.

Only 500 to 1,000 golden monkeys live in their natural habitat, the mountainous region of the Szechwan Province.

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“Very little is known about golden monkeys. The scientific body of knowledge is minuscule, and they’re extremely rare even in the wild, more than pandas,” Jouett said.

Jouett said Jing Tong’s health had been deteriorating steadily since July, when she gave birth to a stillborn baby. Her coat appeared less shiny and her hair was falling out. An examination in October found nothing.

But on Dec. 11, zookeepers reported Jing Tong was listless and not eating. Zoo officials received permission from China the next day to examine her. On Dec. 13, veterinarians found a large mass of tissue around her liver and a smaller mass of tissue around one of her kidneys.

Resuscitated Four Times

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As Jing Tong was coming out of anesthesia, she went into cardiac arrest. Jouett said she was resuscitated four times but “just couldn’t hold on” and died about 11 a.m.

“As an endangered species with fewer than 1,000 left in the world and as a strikingly beautiful primate, she is absolutely priceless,” Jouett said. Golden monkeys are characterized by long golden coats, pug noses and blue-rimmed eyes.

Jing Tong had tested negative for tuberculosis in July, but Jouett said there may have been a false reading. Judging from her condition, it was unlikely that she caught the disease after July.

Her remains have been frozen at the zoo until the autopsy can be performed.

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