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Baby gorilla injured during scuffle: Kitoko is recovering at hospital under 24-hour care

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

Editors note: UPDATE 5/25/20
Kitoko was returned to his mom the evening of May 24th. Uzumma picked him up right away and began nursing. Kwame, silverback and father of Kitoko, was also reunited with the pair that evening. As of May 25, Kitoko and Uzumma are doing well and under the watchful eye of the animal health team and their dedicated keepers who are showering them with lots of TLC.

Woodland Park Zoo’s 2½-month-old male gorilla, Kitoko, sustained injuries yesterday, May 23, during a skirmish among his six-member family group.

Zoo animal health staff immobilized Uzumma, the mother of Kitoko, in order to separate the baby and take him to the zoo’s veterinary hospital for an examination, including diagnostic radiographs and a surgical repair of the wound.

Uzumma and Kitoko, photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

“The infant sustained serious injuries to the head including a laceration from a bite wound, resulting in a bone fracture to the skull,” says Dr. Darin Collins, director of animal health at Woodland Park Zoo. “What could have been a life-threatening injury to his head appears to be a serious wound that can heal if no complications from infection result.”

The zoo was fortunate to have a team of pediatric neurosurgery consultants from Seattle Children’s Hospital for their evaluation and to conduct the surgical exploration and closure of the wound. “Having the team from Seattle Children’s Hospital on site was invaluable for their surgical expertise and advice regarding the longer term prognosis associated with this type of head injury,” adds Collins.

To minimize the risk of infection, the baby is receiving antibiotics and pain medications intravenously, and is recovering at the zoo’s hospital under 24-hour care.

“We are cautiously optimistic for a full recovery and hope to return Kitoko to his mom today,” says Collins. “Over the next two weeks, we will maintain a close assessment for any signs of infection or bleeding resulting in neurological deficits.”

The gorilla keepers didn’t witness the altercation among the gorillas, but cam footage shows it occurred at 7:50 a.m. in the sleeping den. The keepers noticed the wound at 8:00 a.m. The baby appeared to be nursing and behaving normally afterward.

Gorillas live in family groups of usually five to 10, and are led by a dominant adult male, the silverback. Kwame, the father of Kitoko, is the silverback of his group.

Kwame, the dad and silverback in Uzumma and Kitoko's group, photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

“Gorillas tend to be gentle giants but conflicts among family members do occur, in zoos and in nature,” says Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “Conflicts can involve biting and shoving among individuals. We suspect one of the adult females may have inadvertently bitten the baby while engaged in a skirmish with Uzumma.”

Uzumma and Kitoko, western lowland gorillas, live with Kitoko’s dad, Kwame; female Nadiri and her daughter, Yola; and a female adult, Akenji. 

After Uzumma was immobilized and her baby safely removed, animal care staff have kept her under close observation to ensure she safely recovered from anesthesia and to keep her comfortable without her baby. 

“Uzumma is a first-time mother and has been an exceptionally good mom to her infant. She and Kitoko have maintained a close bond since he was born,” says Ramirez. “Being separated from one another is a difficult time for both mom and baby. While Kitoko receives round-the-clock care at the hospital, we have been monitoring Uzumma carefully and showering her with lots of extra TLC.”

According to Ramirez, it is important to maintain stability and normalcy among gorilla family groups. “Our priority is to reunite Uzumma and Kitoko as soon as possible. They’ll be temporarily separated from the other family members with one adult gorilla remaining with them, most likely Kwame,” says Ramirez.

Uzumma and Kitoko, photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
While the zoo has been temporarily closed, the zoo has shared numerous updates on Uzumma and Kitoko. “Uzumma’s family spends most days in the public outdoor habitat and Kitoko has been thriving and reaching developmental milestones. During this time of social distancing, we have heard from our community that our gorillas and our other animals at the zoo continue to inspire hope and touch the hearts and minds of the community,” says Ramirez.

Gorilla fans can wish Kitoko well by signing his wish book:

We know you are all pulling for little Kitoko, and may have questions about what happened, we will keep you posted right here on his recovery and any updates. We thank our veterinary and animal health team, our dedicated keepers and the wonderful folks from Seattle Children's Hospital for all their care and attention.


  1. Love and prayers for Kitoko and his devoted mama, Uzumma. She must be distraught. Love too to the keeper staff for whom this has to be an awful day.
    We are indeed so lucky for the active participation of the staff from Children's alongside the zoo's care team. Kitoko could not be in better hands.

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  2. How is the sweet baby doing? Has she been put back with her mommy yet?

  3. Does the baby have any sort of bandage on his head? Will Uzumma be holding him to the mesh for wound care?

  4. I am hoping and praying for all those involved. When I read this story on Sunday, I cried. Hang in there little guy. ❤️❤️❤️

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