On Sunday at 9 PM, Mei, a white-handed gibbon, became a first-time mother.
Oakland, CA – May 31, 2023… Oakland Zoo is celebrating the arrival of its newest resident, a white-handed gibbon baby, born this past weekend to parents Mei (female, age 12) and Rainier (male, age 11). Animal care staff observed, via live cam, as Mei began laboring at 3 PM on Sunday in the gibbon’s nighthouse. Six hours later, she successfully gave birth and immediately began demonstrating excellent maternal care by cradling and nursing her newborn baby. The delivery comes after a four-year-long courtship between Mei and Rainier, both as first-time parents who were introduced at Oakland Zoo after coming from other AZA-accredited zoos in 2019. Gibbons mate for life, and pairs become closely bonded, vocalizing duets in the mornings.
Mei and Rainer were “matched” as a good breeding pair by the gibbon Species Survival Plan (SSP). The Association of Zoos and Aquariums developed a SSP to help ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied AZA species population throughout AZA-accredited zoos in the U.S..
Mei is demonstrating to be quite an attentive and protective mother, thus far mostly concealing her baby from public view, nursing constantly, and carefully moving about her habitat while keeping her baby to her chest. Like other male white-handed gibbons, Rainier does not take on an active parenting role but has stayed close to Mei and the baby. On Monday morning, Keeper Ashley Xiong offered a normally scheduled training session to Mei, and was thrilled when Mei approached the fenceline to voluntarily participate, with baby held to her chest. Keeper Ashley took the opportunity to take close-up photos.
“This is our first gibbon birth at the Oakland Zoo, and our Animal Care staff has done tremendous work researching and preparing for every possibility. We are delighted that our gibbon family is doing so well”, said Colleen Kinzley, VP of Animal Care and Conservation.
Since Mei and Rainier first arrived at Oakland Zoo, animal care staff proactively developed a multi-step process to support a gibbon family. Giving Mei and Rainier ample time to adapt to their new home, form a strong bond, and develop the social dynamics necessary to create the best environment for a successful pregnancy. For the past couple of months, Animal Care staff have dedicated their time to ‘baby-proofing’ the gibbon island habitat, installing ports in the night house for possible bottle feeding (if needed) and adding more cameras for observation.
Gibbons are one of the few genuinely monogamous primate species. They live in nuclear families very similar to human families of an adult pair and their offspring. The new baby, yet to be named by her animal care team until the gender is determined, will stay at Oakland Zoo for at least five to six years, if not permanently. As the baby matures, usually between six to eight years old, the Zoo will reassess based on the group’s social-dynamics structure.
The white-handed gibbons are currently in Oakland Zoo’s Tropical Rainforest area (Gibbon Island) and can be seen daily during normal Zoo operating hours.