|Nadiri, our 19-year-old, soon-to-be mother, rests on some hay inside the gorilla exhibit. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.|
And now the watch begins.
Gorilla Nadiri could give birth any day now. Last night kicked off the round-the-clock birth watch so we have eyes on the pregnant gorilla at all hours of the day.
|Volunteers Harry, right, and Sue, far left, receive some last-minute guidance and refreshers from keeper Judy, center, before the start of the shift. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.|
Zoo volunteers head in for their shifts nightly, monitoring the expectant mom overnight via a closed circuit camera. During the shifts, volunteers collect data and look for any telltale signs in her behavior that would indicate the onset of labor. A gorilla keeper is on call each night to respond if Nadiri goes into labor overnight.
|A keeper thumbs through paperwork the birth watch volunteers will use to track Nadiri's movements through the night and into the next morning. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.|
|Sue keeps an eye on the monitor, which can rotate between eight different camera views located inside the dens. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.|
|Earl Grey tea seeps into a cup of hot water as the night begins and volunteers need to keep sharp. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.|
|Sue keeps a close eye on the monitor and settles into a groove as the watch continues through the night. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.|
The first 72 hours are the most critical for a newborn gorilla and in that time we need to see that the baby is healthy, thriving, and receiving attentive care from first-time mom Nadiri.
|Keeper Stephanie shows a model burlap doll—Nadiri has her own to use behind the scenes. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.|
To prepare the new mother for her first ever experience with a newborn, Nadiri has been training with her keepers behind the scenes. There she interacts with a burlap “baby” with a head, arms and legs that she’s been holding to her chest. She has grown comfortable presenting the “baby” to keepers and allowing them to mock feed with a bottle using a special extension we’ve built to maintain our safe distance.
|The custom-made bottle extension allows keepers to use it for feedings while maintaining their distance. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.|
The training is going well and is building the foundation for behaviors we want to see in the first-time mom—and we’ll be ready if help is needed.
We can’t wait to meet Nadiri’s baby and usher in the next generation of our gorilla family. The science behind this birth is significant—the baby will continue an underrepresented genetic line within the Species Survival Plan cooperative breeding program across accredited zoos, a boon to the population. But this birth has the power to impact wild populations, too, in the way it touches our hearts and reminds us what’s at stake for critically endangered gorillas.
Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the 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, providing the groundwork for successful conservation strategies.
|Gorilla Winona at the Mbeli Bai Study site with twin babies. Photo courtesy of Mbeli Bai Study.|
The little one on the way is a powerful reminder—and motivation—to fight for a world with gorillas in it.