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Birth watch begins for pregnant gorilla, Uzumma

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

Western lowland gorilla Uzumma is nearing the end of her pregnancy. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
We're excited to announce that the birth watch for our pregnant western lowland gorilla, Uzumma, has started. The gestation period for gorillas is eight to nine months, similar to humans, and the due date for our mom-to-be is between March 8 and March 20. During the overnight birth watch, zoo volunteers will be able to watch Uzumma from cameras in her behind-the-scenes bedroom. They'll also be able to collect data and look for any telltale signs of labor—and a gorilla keeper is on call each night to respond if that happens. 

Uzumma sits and watches as Kwame, the soon-to-be-born baby's father, walks past. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
This birth will be the first for 12-year-old Uzumma. The expectant father is 20-year-old Kwame, who came to Woodland Park Zoo in 2018 from Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The last gorilla born here was Yola, a 4-year-old female who lives in Kwame and Uzumma's group. It’s always an exciting time preparing for the birth of a gorilla. Gorillas are very social animals, so a new baby gorilla is exciting for the whole family. It will be fun to see Yola with a new playmate closer to her age explains Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo.

20-year-old Kwame arrived at Woodland Park Zoo in 2018. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
Our gorilla program and birth management plans consist of thorough pre- and post-natal care, including ultrasound exams. The gorilla keepers have been doing regular training sessions with Uzumma behind the scenes, so that these non-invasive exams are pretty routine. “Uzumma has the choice to participate or not in her own pre-natal care. Because of the excellent training, we don’t need to put her under anesthesia, which can pose its own set of potential stress or risks,” says Dr. Darin Collins, director of animal health at Woodland Park Zoo.

According to Stephanie Jacobs, a gorilla keeper at Woodland Park Zoo, there are many unknowns with a first-time mom, so training for maternal behaviors is also important. The keepers have been working with Uzumma to pick up and hold a number of different objects to her chest, as a sort of stand-in for a "baby". “These training sessions help reinforce what will hopefully be Uzumma’s natural understanding of how to pick up and correctly position the baby for nursing,” explains Jacobs. The keepers have also practiced with Uzumma to bring her baby to the mesh wall between the gorillas and keepers. This will allow our animal care team to provide medical care or supplemental feeding if needed. 

Uzumma walks through her habitat. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
For the first few days after the birth, mom and baby will be monitored round-the-clock. This allows us to make sure that the two of them are bonding, and that the baby is not having any problems with nursing. 

In addition to Uzumma, and Yola the other females in Kwame’s group are: 24-year-old Nadiri, who is Yola's mom, and 18-year-old Akenji.  Uzumma and Kwame were paired under the Gorilla Species Survival Plan, which is a cooperative, conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of gorillas. 

The last gorilla baby born at Woodland Park Zoo was Yola, who is now 4 years old. Here she is seen as an infant with her mother Nadiri. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
You can do more for gorillas!

Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the western lowland gorilla and mountain gorilla through the Mondika Gorilla Project and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. To help save gorillas, you can drop off used handheld electronics at the zoo: cell phones, smartphones, iPods, iPads, tablets, adapters, chargers, MP3 players, handheld gaming systems and accessories that come with them. The handheld electronics are turned over to ECO-CELL, which operates a strict NO LANDFILL program and reimburses organizations for their recyclable contributions. ECO-CELL reuses mineral ore from these devices to reduce the demand for unsustainable coltan mining in the Congo that destroys habitat for critically endangered gorillas. The zoo directs funds from ECO-CELL toward the Mondika Gorilla Project and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. 

Uzumma is known for her love of climbing to the highest limbs in her exhibit and watching everything from above. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo


Chellè said…
So excited to see Kwame become a father! We miss him here in DC but wish him all the best !