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Baby on the way for gorilla Uzumma

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

We've got some very lovely news to share, Uzumma, a western lowland gorilla is pregnant for the first time! The expectant father is 18-year-old Kwame.

Uzumma in her favorite treetop spot. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
Uzumma, who turns 12 in October, has just ended the first trimester of her pregnancy and is due to give birth in March 2020. The gestation period for gorillas is eight to nine months, similar to humans.

The last birth of a gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo was Yola, a female gorilla born in November 2015.

Woodland Park Zoo is renowned for its successful gorilla breeding program and its excellent birth management plans, including pre- and post-natal care. To help ensure a successful pregnancy and birth, the pre-natal care includes regular veterinary check-ups leading up to the birth, a diet created by a nutritionist, supplemental vitamins to help Uzumma maintain a healthy weight for a normal delivery and ultrasound exams.

Uzumma catches a ride on mom, Amanda, in 2009. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Amanda and Uzumma in 2009. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
The gorilla keepers have worked hard to understand their animals. As part of Uzumma’s pre-natal care program, they have trained Uzumma to participate in non-invasive ultrasound exams that will take place in the gorilla bedrooms. “Conditioning Uzumma to offer trained behaviors for ultrasound exams is integral to ensuring a full-term pregnancy and a healthy baby. This important training will allow her to freely participate in her own pre-natal care and eliminates the need for anesthesia, which poses its own set of potential stress or risks,” says Dr. Darin Collins, director of animal health at Woodland Park Zoo. “We’ll closely observe any behavioral changes and perform ultrasound exams periodically throughout the next four months.”

Kwame, the father-to-be, was introduced to Uzumma and her three female companions a year ago when he moved from Smithsonian’s National Zoo. He was chosen by the Gorilla Species Survival Plan in order to provide stability and a natural grouping for this all-female group who had been left without an adult male gorilla, known as a silverback, when Leo passed away in March 2018.

The Gorilla Species Survival Plan is a cooperative, conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of gorillas.

Kwame, a very handsome silverback! Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Kwame stepped into his role as silverback, which is to protect, lead and maintain peace among his group, explains Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “Everything lined up for socializing Kwame with this group of females. Their personalities, dynamics and mutual respect for one another were key,” says Ramirez.

All of the females in Kwame’s group have breeding recommendations by the Gorilla Species Survival Plan. “We took Uzumma off birth control pills in the spring and let nature run its course,” says Ramirez.

Uzumma in 2009, but she still loves the treetops! Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
The zoo’s gorilla team considered several factors in choosing Uzumma to be the first to breed. “Because her own mother, Amanda, was very attentive, nurturing and protective of her babies, we’re confident Uzumma will pick up her mom’s maternal style which, like humans, are often learned behaviors,” says Ramirez. Being adventurous and mischievous, Uzumma also has a lot of energy. “We’re hoping that once she has a baby, she will channel that energy into being a great mom and being a role model for the other females in her group, especially the inexperienced females.”

If you've ever wondered who is at the top of the tree fort, it's usually Uzumma! Photo from 2018 by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo. 
The gorilla care team will prepare for every possible scenario. “There are many unknowns with an inexperienced mom. In addition, Kwame’s group is relatively newly socialized, living together for only a year. We are hopeful a baby will be enriching for the entire group but we have to be ready for any possible outcomes and plan carefully,” explains Ramirez.

In addition to Uzumma, the other females in Kwame’s group are: 23-year-old Nadiri; 3-year-old Yola, the daughter of Nadiri; and 18-year-old Akenji.

Yola, our precious 3-year-old gorilla. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

VIP is the real deal. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo. 
The other gorillas living in a separate group at Woodland Park Zoo are: 40-year-old Vip, the silverback of the group; and 49-year-old Amanda and 33-year-old Jumoke, both females.

Woodland Park Zoo participates in 111 Species Survival Plans, overseen by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, and genetics, these plans also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.

Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the western lowland gorilla and mountain gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. To help support these important projects, you can drop off your old electronics to recycle them through our ECO CELL program.

Throwback to when Uzumma was just getting her tree climbing skills on. Photo from 2008 by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Western lowland gorillas live in seven countries across west equatorial Africa: southeast Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Angola and Equatorial Guinea. All gorillas are endangered; the western lowland gorilla is critically endangered. The estimated population of western lowland gorillas in the wild is about 300,000. Gorillas are endangered for the following primary reasons: poaching for the bushmeat trade; habitat destruction caused by logging, mining, and slash and burn agriculture; infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus which has recently become a great threat, killing many gorillas; and climate change, which is causing the drying of the region, creating negative impacts on forest ecology and species.

Yola with mom, Nadiri. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
All for Animals Giving Day, October 2
It takes a lot of work, dedication and care to prepare for a baby gorilla. From ultrasound training to prepping the nursery—and above all—ensuring a future for all gorillas.

On our first every Giving Day, we ask you to join us in supporting your zoo. Go to givingday.zoo.org to make your gift today!

Everything we do is all for animals.

We need every zoo donor, member, visitor and follower to join together by making a gift of any size to the fund that means the most to them. Thank you for supporting the work we do to save species and protect habitats.


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