Philadelphia Zoo - is pleased to welcome a new addition to the family: a western lowland gorilla born to Kira, the Zoo’s 17-year-old female and 32-year old Motuba on Friday, June 2. This is the first birth for Kira and third offspring for Motuba, who is also father to baby Amani born at the Zoo last August. The newborn can be seen with the rest of the gorilla troop in PECO Primate Reserve.
Mother and baby appear healthy, but will be monitored carefully by Zoo staff in the coming weeks and months. Like a newborn human, a baby gorilla is essentially helpless, relying completely on its mother for care. “We are very excited to welcome Kira’s new baby,” says Dr. Andy Baker, Philadelphia Zoo’s Chief Operating Officer. “This important birth is an opportunity to engage our visitors in caring about the future of gorillas in the wild.”
On Thursday, June 1 keeper staff noticed signs that Kira had begun labor, but as of Friday morning she had not delivered. She appeared to tire and behaved as if she were feeling worse over the course of the morning and there were no signs of the labor progressing. Typically, gorilla labor is quick and the mother does not appear tired, distressed, or show symptoms of feeling poorly. Concerned about the health of both Kira and her baby, the Philadelphia Zoo’s veterinary staff contacted a pre-determined team of consultants who were prepared to assist if there were any problems with the pregnancy or delivery. The team of professionals, from the veterinary and human medical field, includes an ob-gyn, surgeons, anesthesiologists and others, and came from leading area institutions such as University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. A similar team was in place for the gorilla birth last year, but the emergency response was not needed. Once onsite, the medical team examined Kira after she had been placed under anesthesia and determined that she was fully dilated and that the baby was in position for a vaginal delivery.
After 1.5 hours the team delivered a healthy 5lb, 0 oz. baby boy, the process requiring many of the same tools and techniques used for human deliveries, including forceps and episiotomy. While there have been several successful C-section deliveries for gorillas over the past few years, the most recent case of an assisted vaginal delivery the Zoo is aware of occurred in 2000.
Because mom Kira was recovering from anesthesia, vet staff provided the newborn with initial neonatal care, holding and feeding him through the night. By the next morning, Kira was fully recovered and was quickly reunited with her new baby, and has been continuously cradling and nursing him since.
“Our veterinary team had an advance plan in place that had us prepared for scenarios like this – and in this case that plan, and the skill of our keeper team, enabled a safe delivery for both Kira and her baby,” says Dr. Andy Baker. “We often take advantage of the expertise in Philadelphia to optimize health care for our animals, and working with valued partners such as Penn Medicine, Penn Vet, and Jefferson, we were able to intervene and save both lives. It was an anxious and dramatic day at the Zoo, but in the end a tremendously rewarding one,” said Baker.
“Though Kira is a first time mom, we’re not surprised she’s acting like an expert already. She was a great older sister to younger siblings and has been very attentive while our other female gorilla Honi has raised baby Amani, ” says Baker. “Everybody is excited about these two future playmates.”
Western lowland gorillas are listed as Critically Endangered in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with threats including habitat destruction due to palm oil and timber plantations as global demand for palm oil and paper continues to rise. The Zoo works with the Species Survival Plan® (SSP) program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), whose goal is to manage populations of endangered and other species across AZA zoos, to maintain long-term genetic and demographic viability.
The newborn currently lives in PECO Primate Reserve with mom Kira, dad Motuba and other troop mates Honi and her baby Amani. Viewing times may vary - visitors can see the family inside PECO Primate Reserve, in their outdoor habitat or hanging out in the Zoo360 trails, or when mom wants quiet time she might retire to her back-of-house space with the newborn. The Zoo plans to work again with the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to choose a name for the infant.