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Baby on the way for first time gorilla mom

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor with Gigi Allianic, Communications

Nadiri at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

At 19 years old, western lowland gorilla Nadiri is pregnant for the first time. We're counting down to the expected birth in early November after an eight- to nine-month gestation period.

This is big news, and since Nadiri is not an experienced mother, we're taking extra precautions to prepare her.

It starts with pre-natal care for the expectant mom. She is currently on a diet created by a nutritionist and receiving supplemental vitamins to help her maintain a healthy weight for a normal delivery.

Keepers will need to be able to perform visual checks on the baby to confirm it is thriving, so the work begins now with training Nadiri to present her "baby"—in this case a stuffed burlap object about the size of a newborn.

Once the baby comes, all eyes are on those first 72 hours after birth, the most critical time for a newborn gorilla. Our keepers will be watching closely to ensure that Nadiri and baby are bonding, proper nursing is taking place and the baby is receiving adequate milk. We want to see Nadiri holding the baby close and keeping it sufficiently warm.

The most recent gorilla birth at Woodland Park Zoo was Uzumma, born to Amanda in 2007. Seen as a baby here, Uzumma will turn 8 years old on October 20.

What we’re hoping to see is that Nadiri delivers a healthy baby and provides strong maternal care. But we are preparing for other scenarios to assure the best for mom and baby.

Gorilla care experts across accredited zoos work together through the Species Survival Plan to manage the cooperative conservation breeding program. Through their work they have learned that it is in the best interest of baby gorillas to be raised by a socially dynamic group of gorillas rather than being hand raised exclusively by humans. In this way, they learn how to be a gorilla from other gorillas, develop the ability to understand social cues and practice the nuances of gorilla etiquette. This sets them up for the best long-term welfare.

If Nadiri rejects her baby or is unable to provide proper maternal care, the zoo will explore options such as partial hand-rearing or identifying a surrogate mother gorilla at another zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Both have proven successful practices.

Vip is the father of the expected baby. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The father of Nadiri’s expected baby is 36-year-old Vip, who has sired six other offspring. Nadiri represents a very valuable and underrepresented genetic line to the gorilla Species Survival Plan population, particularly as her father, Congo, has no other known offspring in the population.

Nadiri herself marked a momentous birth 19 years ago at Woodland Park Zoo. The first several weeks of her life got off to a rocky start when her mother, Jumoke, experienced complications during labor. The zoo had to quickly assemble a team of human physicians to assist with the delivery. While the volunteer medical team successfully delivered the baby, Jumoke unfortunately never showed 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. Through the dedication and countless hours invested by gorilla and animal health staff, Nadiri was eventually introduced successfully to a surrogate family of gorillas at Woodland Park Zoo.

Wild western lowland gorilla in the Mbeli Bai study area. Photo by Kelly Greenway courtesy of Mbeli Bai Study.

We're so excited for Nadiri to have the opportunity to start the next generation of our gorilla family. The animals here are such compelling ambassadors for the critically endangered gorillas in Africa threatened with extinction. 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.

We're fighting for a world with gorillas in it, and we can't wait to meet Nadiri's baby, a moving reminder of what's at stake.


Roxarita said…
Maggie1944 said…
Crossing my fingers, and hoping with my heart, for a successful birth and a healthy mother and baby.
Anonymous said…
It's about time for Nadiri!! Knowing her unique genetic background (father Congo), I have been wondering for years when she would be bred. I'll be eagerly awaiting news of her baby and may they both be well and prosper.
SJSiff said…
I'm pregnant and due in mid-November! What fun that Nadiri's baby might share a birthday with mine. Best of luck to her and her baby! said…
look at the cute gorilla baby @@! I want to hold him <3 said…
What age do gorillas usually have their first baby, and why has she never had a baby before?
Female gorillas can usually start reproducing after the age of 10. Nadiri has had the opportunity to breed and reproduce with her original mate, Leo. The two were an excellent match in terms of their underrepresented genetics, but that's just the start. Like with us, there's much more that goes into successful reproduction for gorillas. The sparks never quite flew between those two. She did later have a much more successful partnering with a different male, Vip, and we have this beautiful new baby now as a result.