SAN FRANCISCO (DECEMBER 9, 2008) – The San Francisco Zoo is proud to announce the birth of a male baby western lowland gorilla, born Monday, December 8 at 11:30 a.m. This is the first gorilla birth for the Zoo in a decade and plays a contributing role to the conservation efforts taking place for this critically endangered species through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (AZA, SSP). This is the fourth successful gorilla birth in North America this year.
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The Zoo’s veterinary staff report that there were no complications during the birth and that first-time mother, Monifa, initially showed text book signs of motherhood. Monifa cleaned-up her elevated nest after the birth. However, as the day progressed, Monifa left the nest and has not climbed back into it since, leaving the infant by himself. The veterinary and primate teams monitored the infant overnight and at approximately 4:30 a.m. they decided to pull the infant from the nest to ensure he had the needed supportive care.
“It’s a critical time for the infant and we are having to make hard decisions,” said Jacqueline Jencek, DVM, chief of veterinary services at the San Francisco Zoo. “Mom was moving as far away as possible from the nest and was avoiding any eye contact, so it was clear that she wasn’t up for motherhood and that we were going to need to step in and help her along.”
Curators and vets knew the risks were high for Monifa, a first-time mom, as there is the potential of baby rejection, baby snatching and aggressive behavior from other females in the troop, namely Bawang and daughter Nneka. However, the veterinary staff and primate teams had an extensive birth plan that prepared them for every possible scenario and they are now moving into the stages of how to try and reunite mom and infant long-term.
“We’ve taken every possible step to prepare the gorilla troop for this birth,” said Corinne MacDonald, curator of primates at the San Francisco Zoo. “The most important element now is to ensure the health and well-being of the infant, try to reunite him with mom and then, as quickly as possible, maintain the social dynamics of the troop.”
Animal care strategies have evolved with regards to births at zoos. In the 1970s, the philosophy was to pull the babies and raise them by hand to eliminate any possible risks. As time progressed, animal keepers began to separate the female and infant from the troop, to give the mother more time to focus on her motherly duties and to ensure infant safety. Now, standard practice is to maintain a birthing plan that duplicates, as closely as possible, how the birth would occur in the wild.
“We are thrilled to have a new addition to the Zoo family,” said Tanya Peterson, acting director and president of the San Francisco Zoo. “This is a significant birth that demonstrates our commitment to the conservation of endangered and threatened species. Our team is looking forward to sharing the gorilla infant with Zoo visitors and making him an integral part of the Zoo’s education program.”
The Zoo’s gorilla troop consists of one 21-year-old dominant male silverback, Oscar Jonesy, who is on breeding loan from the Buffalo Zoo and was hand-raised as an infant. There are four females including Bawang, a proven mother in the troop and her daughter Nneka who was born at the San Francisco Zoo, as well as Zura who is a distant cousin to Oscar Jonesy, and Monifa, who is 10-years-old and on loan from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.