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Brookfield Zoo’s new CT scanner unveiled

Kartik the sloth bear undergoes a CT scan as part of a check-up at Brookfield Zoo Thursday. | Stefano Esposito/For Sun-TImes

If you’re an elephant, you’re still out of luck. Ditto for a giraffe.

But almost any other creature — from a mouse to a gorilla — can be accommodated on Brookfield Zoo’s new CT scanner.

On Thursday, staff in scrubs heaved a 310-pound sloth bear onto the scanner’s table before guiding its shaggy body through the donut-hole opening for a routine health check.

“This scanner is about 16 times faster than our old scanner. So what previously took us 15 minutes to complete, we can now do in under a minute,” said a proud Dr. Mike Adkesson, Brookfield’s vice president of clinical medicine.

The equipment was part of a donation from Adventist Medical Center La Grange. Brookfield is one of only two zoos in North America with a CT scanner on site.

So why does it need one?

“The Chicago Zoological Society is a very strong supporter . . . of pushing the frontier in terms of health and the medical care that we can provide for our animals. So we’re just trying to take things to the next level,” Adkesson said.

Big cats, dolphins, orangutans are among the patients that have already had scans, Adkesson said.

On Thursday, it was 7-year-old Kartik’s turn. It took four people to shift the unconscious animal onto the scanner table. As it lay there, with its enormous tongue hanging out and a plastic oxygen tube going the other way, Kartik proved a tricky patient. First one shaggy paw, then another, flopped off the edge of the table.

“Obviously CT scans are made for people that are able to keep their balance and maintain their position when they’re lying there,” Adkesson said. “So it can sometimes be a little difficult for us when we’re handling 300 pounds of asleep weight … .”

Kartik was later shifted to a board curved up at the sides to keep its limbs in place.

“We’re able to image this animal in one millimeter slices. So we are taking a very high-resolution look inside the animal,” Adkesson said, staring at silvery-white images of the animal on a computer screen.

The scanner can help spot early signs of arthritis or heart damage, among other problems. Those aren’t things Kartik needs to worry about yet.

“So far everything looks great,” Adkesson said. “He’s a young animal in the prime of his life and he’s in great shape.”