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Baby Gorilla Arrives With Help From Medical Team

A baby Western Lowland Gorilla was born on June 2 at the Philadelphia Zoo with assistance from a team of veterinarians and human medical specialists.

The baby, a boy, has already integrated with the zoo’s Gorilla troop and can be seen with mom, 17-year-old Kira. This is Kira’s first baby.

WesternLowlandGoril#4F1392FPhoto Credit:  Philadelphia Zoo

Mother and baby appear healthy, but will be monitored carefully 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 the world in caring about the future of Gorillas in the wild.”

Kira, a 17-year-old female Gorilla, went into labor on June 1, but had not delivered her baby by the next morning. Kira 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, 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 included an ob-gyn, surgeons, anesthesiologists and others, from leading area institutions such as University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

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, the most recent known case of an assisted vaginal delivery occurred in 2000.

Because 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 U of P Health System, 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, 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 protect and sustain populations of endangered and other species across AZA zoos.