Gorillas and other great apes, especially those living in zoos, often have problems with heart disease and high blood pressure, just as sedentary humans often do. Until 2009, however, there was no way to measure the blood pressure of gorillas without tranquilizing them – a dangerous and expensive operation. That changed when Zoo Atlanta, as part of their Great Ape Heart Project, commissioned a part that could hold gently hold a blood pressure cuff on a conscious gorilla. The designers named the device the “Tough Cuff” because of the ruggedness it would need to withstand a gorilla’s wrath, should it need to.

In 2019, the NC Zoo expressed interest in acquiring a device like the Tough Cuff, but they didn’t have the budget or equipment to procure one themselves. Working with Dr. Daniel Schmitt of Duke’s evolutionary anthropology department, I re-created the original Tough Cuff and tailored its design to suit their needs. Cage materials are not standard across zoos, so I started by modifying mounting geometry to fit their gorilla’s enclosure. Improvements in the accessibility of 3D printing over the course of the last decade also enabled me immensely reduce the Tough Cuff’s cost; by taking advantage of Duke’s free communal 3D printing and fastener supply, I supplied a functional prototype to Dr. Schmitt at no cost to him or the zoo.

External Links:

Read the report on the original Tough Cuff here

You can also see the original Tough Cuff in use here

Read about the Great Ape Heart Project here