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Baby gorilla born

WPZ's baby gorilla being held with blankets of fleece and burlap. He is in a room with straw bedding on the ground and a soft, yellow light. Photo courtesy Woodland Park Zoo

It’s a boy! Baby gorilla arrives at Woodland Park Zoo

There was a lot of excitement at Woodland Park Zoo last week as zookeepers kept 24/7 watch over Akenji, the 22-year-old western mountain gorilla who was expecting her first baby, waiting for signs of labor. To their delight, Akenji gave birth on June 28, to a baby gorilla boy. He arrived at 10:30 a.m., weighing 4.4 pounds. Zoo officials say he’s got a healthy appetite and a strong grip.

“The average weight for a gorilla at birth is 4 pounds and we’re pleased to report our new boy weighs 4.4 pounds. His vital signs are good, and he is healthy and physically normal,” said Dr. Yousuf Jafarey, Associate Veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo, in an announcement of the birth.

Following the birth, zoo gorilla and animal health staff kept a close eye on Akenji’s postpartum behavior. The staff had been working with the new mom for months, hoping to prepare her for motherhood and baby care. Unfortunately, Akenji did not show appropriate maternal behaviors, and soon after delivery, the animal care team had to step in and take over care for the baby’s safety.

Baby gorilla born

Photo courtesy Woodland Park Zoo

“Although we have been encouraging maternal behaviors, Akenji still hasn’t shown any promising signs of interest to bond with her baby. Because she demonstrated capable maternal behaviors throughout her training program, we’re disappointed and a little surprised those instincts haven’t kicked in,” Rachel Vass, Interim Animal Care Manager at Woodland Park Zoo, said in the release. “As we continue to hand-rear her baby for the short term, the positive news is that he remains healthy, he has a great appetite and strong grip, and he is getting bigger every day.”

Since Friday, the gorilla staff have provided round-the-clock care for the newborn, bottle-feeding him with human infant formula while keeping him warm and comfortable. Over the weekend the baby was kept close to a warm bedding of hay to allow Akenji short visits and be within line of sight of her little one so she could see, hear, and smell him. The hope is that she will bond with her baby. But in the short term, gorilla staff should continue caring for the baby gorilla and offering opportunities to unite mother and son.

“We have a professional, highly dedicated team of gorilla experts at Woodland Park Zoo who have more than eight decades of collective experience caring for and breeding gorillas, preparing expectant moms for motherhood, and uniting moms and infants or introducing other gorillas to step in as moms,” said Martin Ramirez, Interim Senior Director of Animal Care at Woodland Park Zoo. “The present situation calls for us to exercise patience and be methodical as we move forward with this new member of our gorilla family,” said Ramirez.

The newborn represents the 16th gorilla born at Woodland Park Zoo and the third offspring of his father, Kwame (KWA-may).

Akenji and her family will be in the viewable outdoor habitat from mid-morning to mid-afternoon while her baby remains in the off-view dens. For updates, visit www.zoo.org/zoobabies. Get all the details on Akenji’s birth, how our dedicated team is caring for the infant, and the plan moving forward at blog.zoo.org

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About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.