Attempts to introduce a first-time mother Gorilla to her new baby continue every day at Woodland Park Zoo, in Seattle, Washington. For the next three months, the Zoo will keep providing hands-on care for the newborn female Gorilla before evaluating next steps.
The unnamed baby Western Lowland Gorilla was born November 20 to 19-year-old Nadiri (NAW-duh-ree).
After giving birth naturally, Nadiri did not pick up her baby and, instead, walked away. Staff immediately stepped in for the safety and welfare of the baby and to allow the new mom to rest.
Because Nadiri does not have experience with motherhood, the Zoo prepared for different eventualities while Nadiri was pregnant, including human intervention.
The Woodland Park Zoo’s Gorilla and veterinary staff are providing 24/7 care for the baby, behind the scenes, in the Gorillas’ sleeping quarters in a den next to Nadiri. Here, the mom and the other two members in her group can see the baby; and the baby is immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of Gorillas.
“The baby is strong and healthy, and has a hearty appetite,” said Harmony Frazier, Woodland Park Zoo’s senior veterinary technician and an animal infant specialist. “We bottle feed her human infant formula on demand so she’s eating every couple of hours. She’s steadily gaining weight and currently weighs 5.8 pounds, a healthy weight for a 2-week-old Gorilla [as of December 3],” said Frazier.
“The best outcome for the baby Gorilla is to have her mom raise her, so, several times a day Nadiri is given access to her baby,” said Martin Ramirez, Woodland Park Zoo’s mammal curator. “Nadiri consistently enters the den for each introduction session. While she still hasn’t picked up her baby, she remains next to her. When the baby cries, she sometimes touches her in a calming manner. When Nadiri is in her own den, she watches her baby and grunts contentedly,” explained Ramirez. “It isn’t strong maternal behavior yet, but we’re encouraged by these positive sessions and gestures of interest.”
The zoo closely monitors and evaluates each introduction session. “As long as the sessions remain positive, we’ll keep moving forward with providing opportunities for Nadiri and her baby to bond. If Nadiri shows any inappropriate behaviors, we will discontinue the sessions and assess other options,” added Ramirez.
After the holidays, the Zoo has plans to name the baby Gorilla.
The father of the newborn is 36-year-old Vip, who has sired six other offspring with three different females at the Zoo. The new baby carries very valuable Gorilla genes. The new baby’s grandfather, Congo, was born in the wild and, therefore, was a “founder” animal. As a founder animal, Congo had no other known representatives in the population of zoo Gorillas. “The introduction of this baby’s genes is a boon for the gene pool of Gorillas in zoos,” said Ramirez.
The birth of Nadiri at Woodland Park Zoo, and the first several weeks of her life, got off to a rocky start 19 years ago. Her mother, Jumoke, experienced complications during labor and the Zoo had to call on a team of human physicians to assist with the delivery. While the volunteer medical team successfully delivered the baby, Jumoke unfortunately didn’t show any interest in accepting her infant, despite a series of introductions on a daily basis. To compound matters, Nadiri’s father, Congo, passed away two weeks after the birth of his first viable offspring. His death defeated any hope of further introductions between Jumoke and her baby. Without a dominant male, Congo’s group was no longer a stable environment for the baby.
The sad turn of events for Nadiri, essentially orphaned, captured the hearts of the community and garnered mass media attention. Zoo staff and volunteers provided round-the-clock care and loads of love. It didn’t take long for the community to care for this special baby and for a local bagel company to step forward to become the exclusive corporate parent of the newborn under the ZooParent Animal Adoption program. Through the dedication and countless hours invested by Gorilla and animal health staff, Nadiri was eventually introduced to a surrogate family of Gorillas at Woodland Park Zoo when she was only several months old.
The other Gorillas currently living at Woodland Park Zoo are: females Amanda, 45; Jumoke, 30; Akenji, 14; Uzumma, 8; and males Pete, 47, and Leonel, 37.
The Western Lowland Gorilla lives in seven countries across west equatorial Africa: southeast Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Angola and Equatorial Guinea.
All Gorillas are endangered; the Western Lowland Gorilla is classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The estimated population of Western Lowland Gorillas in the wild is about 95,000. There are three primary reasons Gorillas are endangered. One is habitat destruction caused by logging, mining, and slash-and-burn agriculture. The bushmeat trade, facilitated by logging, has become an immediate threat to the western lowland gorilla population, particularly in Cameroon. Additionally, infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus have recently become a great threat, killing many Gorillas.
Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the critically endangered Western Lowland Gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Study, one of the Zoo’s Partners for Wildlife. The study researches the social organization and behaviors of more than 450 Lowland Gorillas living in the southwest of Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. The data collected enables scientists to assess the vulnerability of populations to habitat threats and predict their ability to recover from decline.