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Update zoo baby gorilla

Akenji cradles her pregnant belly which is noticeably bigger. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo

UPDATE: WPZ now on “birth watch” for baby gorilla

Labor expected to start within weeks

The birth watch has begun for Akenji, a western lowland gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo. That means zookeepers are watching the mama-to-be closely for signs that her labor has begun. In fact, they’ve been watching and working with Akenji for months to help prepare her for parenting, including providing breastfeeding hints with a burlap doll.

According to the zoo, gestation for a gorilla is about nine months, just like it is for humans. A birth watch for great apes typically begins a week before the birth window opens, but the baby may not arrive for two or even three weeks.

Around the clock watch

The birth watch means Akenji is now monitored 24 hours a day. Zoo volunteers observe Akenji remotely overnight, using cams installed in her bedroom. They also collect data such as behavioral changes and sleeping patterns and look for any signs that might indicate the onset of labor.

“A gorilla keeper is on call to respond in case Akenji goes into labor in the middle of the night,” the zoo announced in an update. “During the day, routine care for all the zoo’s gorillas continues with an extra close watch on her when she’s in the outdoor habitat with her family.

Excitement around the big day

“Every birth of a gorilla is exciting for the zoo family and our community. We’ve seen hundreds of zoo members and visitors gather at the gorilla habitat seeking out Akenji and her pregnant belly,” said Rachel Vass, Interim Animal Care Manager at Woodland Park Zoo. “While gorillas characteristically have big bellies because of the high volume of fiber in their diet, Akenji’s belly is noticeably bigger, especially when she’s resting on her side. As Akenji nears parturition, she’s more tired. We’ve prepared her as much as we can for a successful birth and to provide good maternal behavior, especially as a first-time mom.”

Want to learn more about how zookeepers help prepare a gorilla to be a parent? Check out our article “Waiting for the baby gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo—A Read-Aloud!” It’s a great way to introduce kids to the subject.

But wait, there’s more!

It turns out WPZ is expecting a baby orangutan this summer as well. Whe expectant mom Batu (baw-too) delivers in late August or early September it will be the first orangutan birth at the zoo i nearly 35 years. The gestation period for orangutans is also about nine months. Female orangutans don’t often have babies back to back—generally its seven to nine years before a sibling comes along—and the development period for infant orangutans is the longest of all the primites. Young ones depend on their moms for nursing and transport for the the first three to four years of life.

“Batu doesn’t have direct experience being around a baby orangutan, but she was completely reared by her mother where she was born and, therefore, has good personal experience to draw from,” said Libby Lawson, an animal keeper at Woodland Park Zoo, in a recent zoo release. “Batu’s intelligence, confidence, and independent personality were most certainly nurtured by her mother. We believe her strong relationship with mate Godek and her mother’s mentorship have equipped Batu for this significant period in her life.”

zoo baby gorilla

Batu, a Sumatran orangutan, is due to give birth to her first baby in late August/early September. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Woodland Park Zoo

Join the watch

Current zoo hours are 9:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m. daily.

Read more:

Waiting for the baby gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo – A Read-Aloud!

Spring Spectacular Woodland Park Zoo

Tucked away: Great gardens without the crowds

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Seattle Child Staff

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