National newspapers and internet sources alike have recently been reporting on an unusual case of hair loss in southern India, that of Guru the chimpanzee.
A 20-year old male chimp at Mysore Zoo, Guru has lost practically all of his body-hair, and is undergoing continuing treatment in an attempt to cure the condition, so far without success. Vets at the zoo say that the condition first afflicted him at some point before he was three years old, when he was rescued from a circus.
Dr Suresh Kumar, a zoo vet, said, “He came to us with alopecia, so we don’t know how he got it originally. However, with chimpanzees being so much like humans, we think it could have been caused by factors in Guru’s life such as stress or trauma, which can induce alopecia in humans.”
Guru is experiencing total body-hair loss. In humans this is known as Alopecia Universalis.
Dr Kumar went on to say that so far no medicines the zoo has tried have been successful in treating Guru. As a last resort they are planning on consulting a human skin specialist.
The large degree of interest from both the tabloids and the broadsheets is perhaps mainly due to the supposed human-like appearance of the great ape. But the story also highlights the fact that alopecia and other forms of hair loss are not limited to human beings.
Last year the media reported on another case of hair loss in animals the mysterious baldness of three female spectacled bears in Leipzig zoo, Germany. No conclusive cause for the hair loss was found, but some vets speculated that it might be due to the stress of being taken from their natural habitat and placed in a zoo with a wholly different climate.
Alopecia is not unusual in domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, and though the causes for such hair loss can be due to parasites or fleas, in many cases a vet may identify it as being caused by exposure to stressful situations and environments.
News stories about Guru the chimpanzee and other cases of animal hair loss are perhaps a telling reminder that alopecia, far from being a rarity, is common throughout many living things.
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