On October 14, a multidisciplinary team of veterinarians and physicians successfully delivered a male gorilla baby via Cesarean section at the Franklin Park Zoo.
In the days leading up to the delivery, Kiki, a 39-year-old western lowland gorilla, experienced vaginal bleeding, which at times was significant. With Kiki’s due date just days away, the veterinary team at Zoo New England became concerned that she may have placenta previa, a condition where the placenta lies over the entrance to the cervix, blocking the path for delivery of the baby.
At 4:00 p.m. on October 14, the Zoo New England veterinary team, along with specialists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, performed an ultrasound on Kiki and quickly confirmed that she did have placenta previa. The Animal Care and veterinary teams transported Kiki to the Zoo Hospital on grounds at Franklin Park Zoo and prepped her for surgery, which once underway went quickly and smoothly.
At 6:35 p.m., the 6 pound, 3 ounce gorilla infant was delivered. He’s a big baby, as gorilla infants typically weigh 3-5 pounds, and is the first male gorilla ever born at Franklin Park Zoo.
“For the health of mom and baby, it was imperative to quickly diagnose Kiki’s condition and perform a C-section before she went into labor on her own. We were fortunate to quickly mobilize an amazing team with our colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine,” said Dr. Eric Baitchman, Zoo New England Vice President of Animal Health and Conservation. “This was truly a team effort, and we are relieved and happy that the surgery went smoothly and that mom and baby are both safe and healthy.”
Zoo New England’s veterinary and animal care teams were assisted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital obstetricians Dr. Julian Robinson, Dr. Thomas McElrath, Dr. Sara Rae Easter, Dr. James Greenberg, and RN Monique Williams, Brigham & Women’s Hospital neonatologists Dr. Linda Van Marter and Dr. Elizabeth Flanigan, and veterinary anesthesiologist Dr. Emily McCobb and veterinary anesthesia resident Dr. Emily Wheeler from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
Following the delivery, Kiki recovered from surgery while the baby was cared for by Zoo staff where Kiki was close enough to see and hear the baby. The pair were successfully reunited the following afternoon on October 15, and Kiki has been very attentive, holding the baby close. Mother and baby have bonded well and continue to be closely monitored and cared for behind the scenes. For news on when they will make their exhibit debut, please check our website or follow us on social media.
Zoo New England is an active participant in the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SSPs help to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered, and enhance conservation of these species in the wild. Kiki’s pregnancy was the result of a recommended breeding by the SSP with her mate Kitombe, affectionately known as Kit. Kiki has previously given birth to four female gorillas – her youngest two reside at Franklin Park Zoo, while her oldest two reside at other AZA-accredited zoos per breeding recommendations.
Western lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered in the wild. Western gorillas, found in the countries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Angola, and Central African Republic, are divided into the Cross River and western lowland subspecies. Both are considered critically endangered. Threats to gorillas vary geographically and western gorillas are primarily threatened by disease and the bushmeat trade.
Zoo New England has been a longtime supporter of gorilla conservation, devoting passion, expertise and resources to the preservation of this iconic species. Zoo New England is currently supporting a project to protect Cross-river gorillas in the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Nigeria. Here at home, Zoo New England participates in the Eco-Cell recycling program, an initiative which partners with zoos across the country to collect recycled cell phones and refurbish them for reuse. This reduces the need for coltan mining, which causes the destruction of endangered gorilla habitats.