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First-time gorilla mom Nadiri gives birth

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

An image taken from a closed circuit keeper camera showing Nadiri during labor in her den this morning. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Curator Martin Ramirez monitors Nadiri via closed circuit camera during labor. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

After a night of restless tossing and turning, we knew pregnant gorilla Nadiri was close. Then the contractions started around 8:00 a.m. today and just about 4 hours later at 11:30 a.m. it finally happened—Nadiri brought her first offspring into the world.

Within moments of giving birth, Nadiri moved a few feet away from the baby and walked to the other side of her den. Keepers watching closely could see the infant was moving, though still wrapped in the amniotic sac. We made the call for the safety of the baby: it was time to intervene.

Curator Martin Ramirez explained that while we hoped Nadiri would immediately hold and care for her baby, we stepped in for the safety of the newborn and made the decision to let the new mom rest. All along, we’ve been preparing for all outcomes to ensure the health and well-being of the infant is the top priority.

Stepping in and removing the baby allowed the zoo’s animal health team to perform a neonatal examination on the baby.

It’s a girl!

Lead zookeeper Hugh Bailey and zoo veterinarian Dr. Darin Collins take a close look at the newborn girl behind the scenes at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

According to Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s director of animal health, the average weight for a gorilla at birth is 4 pounds. “Our new baby weighs a healthy 5 pounds. Her vital signs look good and she is physically normal,” said Collins.

Following the exam, staff placed the baby in close proximity to Nadiri to evaluate her interest. Unfortunately, Nadiri didn’t approach her baby or show any interest. At this time, a bedroom adjacent to Nadiri’s den is being set up so she can see and hear her baby. Our goal is to methodically expose Nadiri to her baby and help kick in that maternal instinct. She remains within visual contact and has content vocalized toward her baby, so she’s showing some interest. We’ll continue these efforts as long as we see positive interactions.

The first 72 hours are the most critical for a newborn gorilla. “The baby has successfully taken her first bottle, and we are prepared to bottle feed and provide round-the-clock care until Nadiri shows signs she wants her baby,” said Ramirez. The new mom and baby will remain off view in the sleeping dens where it is a hushed, comfortable environment and staff can keep a close 24-hour watch.

The newborn marks the first gorilla born at the zoo in eight years and the thirteenth gorilla birth at the zoo.

The father of the newborn is 36-year-old Vip, who has sired six other offspring with three different females at the zoo.

“It’s very enriching for a gorilla to give birth and raise a baby, and natural overall for gorillas to have babies in their groups,” said Ramirez. “Despite hitting this road bump, we have had high hopes for Nadiri to get pregnant and have her own baby, so this is a very happy day for us!”

Because Nadiri was partially hand-raised as an infant and is an inexperienced mom, the zoo’s gorilla keeper staff took extra measures to prepare her for raising a baby. Through daily sessions, Nadiri was trained to pick up a burlap “baby” to present to the keepers in case supplemental feedings are needed for her baby. On cue, she presented the burlap baby to the keepers to allow them to feed through the mesh, using a custom-made bottle extension and to closely inspect the burlap baby.

The zoo’s goal is to allow Nadiri to raise her baby on her own. As long as Nadiri continues to provide solid maternal care, the gorilla’s human caretakers will remain hands off. We want to assure a healthy future for the little one.

Wrapped up in this new bundle of joy is a touching reminder of what's at stake in a world where gorillas face extinction in the wild. She carries very valuable genes underrepresented in the gorilla population, which is managed together across conservation zoos through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan.

In Africa, Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the critically endangered 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 and predict their ability to recover from decline.

That research is an investment in a future with gorillas in it, a future we fight for everyday thanks to your support.


Anonymous said…
As a small child in the late 50s and early 60s, my favorite animals to visit at Woodland Park Zoo were the Gorillas: Bobo and Fifi. I don't remember them ever having babies. This is so exciting. I hope the new mother will start feeling maternal.Thank you for your ongoing support of this family.
Unknown said…
Just a quick question for the zookeepers... do you think that training Nadiri with the burlap baby to hand it over has hindered her trust in her own maternal instinct? It seems as though she did exactly what she was taught: walk away from the baby so the humans can examine and feed the baby.
Anonymous said…
Great question, it seems as though she had her and said "here you go", my job is done here......
Let us clarify that Nadiri's training was focused on her holding and caring for her baby. She was presenting the burlap baby visually to keepers through the safety barriers and allowing them to use an extension bottle to mock feed through the barriers if needed. This means the training baby remained under Nadiri's care in her den all along, as would always be the intention for her real baby.
Jessica said…
Do mother gorillas rely on other, experienced, female members of their group to help and support their mothering instinct?
Hmarcacci said…
I thought the same thing! I think she may have been confused at to what the zookeepers were trying to show her. Live and learn.
Anonymous said…
Jessica asked a wonderful question. I'd love to know too.
Anonymous said…
I think that young females have the opportunity to observe other females in the troop and learn by watching what mothers do with their babies and by taking care of younger siblings. I don't think Nadiri has had that chance.
Kathy said…
I too remember BoBo and FiFi.
Julie Jay said…
To the keepers: Maybe if you show Nadiri videos of Gorillas moms holding and nursing their babies, she might try to imitate that. Just an idea.
Zoo Lover said…
I'm sure this has been suggested, but what about letting her view nursing human moms so she can learn breastfeeding? (Breastfeeding Made Simple, page 17).
Anonymous said…
Could you post updates as they become available. I am rooting for Nadiri to begin taking more interest and would love to know if she is. I remember following her when she was born and so am very interested in how that it is impacting her now that she doesn't have that early memory of her own infant care by gorilla mom.
Unknown said…
Now that the baby is over 2 months old can you give us an update? Did Nadiri ever take an interest/ Is the baby thriving. When would you expect her to be able to be seen by the public?