Seattle's Child

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waiting for baby gorilla

Akenji is doing very well as she prepares to become a mom. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

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

Akenji will be a first-time mom sp she's practicing on a baby doll

Editor’s note: Woodland Park Zoo is expecting a gorilla baby to arrive in late June or early July, so we thought it would be fun for kids and parents to follow along with the zookeepers as they prepare for the new arrival. Keep checking in at and Seattle’s Child’s Facebook and Instagram for baby gorilla updates!

It’s an exciting time at Woodland Park Zoo!

Akenji, one of the western lowland gorillas living at the zoo, will become a first-time mom this summer.  Akenji is 22 years old was also born at Woodland Park Zoo.   The new baby’s dad is Kwame, who is 24. Kwame is also the dad of Kitoko, born  in March 2020, and Zuna,  born January 2021 – both were also born at Woodland Park Zoo.

Where’s the baby bump?

But if you visit the zoo before Akenji’s baby arrives, don’t expect to see a big baby bump.

Rachel Vass is WPZ’s interim animal care manager. She says it’s not easy to notice when a gorilla is expecting a baby because gorillas already have big bellies. Why? Because they eat a lot of fiber.

“Our gorilla care staff noticed she’s a little wider across her upper midsection and chest. Her belly is bigger, but the untrained eye could probably not detect the change,” Rachel says.

Baby gorilla

Akenji’s belly is bigger but an untrained eye might not be able to tell she’s pregnant. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Getting ready to be a mom

The Woodland Park Zoo’s gorilla care staff have been taking extra care to help Akenji get ready to be a new mom. They want to make sure she knows how to care for her baby. The zookeepers remember that Akenji’s mom, Jumoke, had difficulty caring for her new baby, so a mama gorilla living in another gorilla family at the Zoo helped raise Akenji.  

Zookeepers are now making sure Akenji practices how to be a mom, something called “maternal skills training.” What does that look like?

Baby doll practice!

Vass says Akenji is being taught to pick up a burlap baby doll and bring it to her breast to practice nursing her baby. They are also teaching her to bring her doll to the gorilla staff, so she’ll know to do that if her baby needs extra food from a bottle after it’s born.

For gorillas, being around gorilla babies and young gorillas is especially important for learning maternal skills. Luckily, Akenj’s family group is also home to 8-year-old Yola, 4-year-old Kitoko, and 3-year-old Zuna so Akenji has lots of experience being around infant gorillas and watching them grow up. 

“Akenji is a laid-back gorilla and is playful and very social with the gorilla kids. You can often see her carrying Zuna on her back,” Vass says. This important interaction should help make Akenji a good mom to her own baby.

Gorilla pregnancy care is important just like human pregnancy care

Woodland Park Zoo is very good at bringing new gorillas into the world. Just like when a human mom is expecting a baby, the zoo has been giving Akenji great pregnancy care including regular veterinary check-ups. She’s also on a special diet created by a nutritionist and she’s taking vitamins. 

Zookeepers have also trained Akenji to sit through ultrasounds, which allow zoo doctors to see inside Akenji’s belly and ensure that her baby is healthy.

Check out Akenji’s baby in this ultrasound video! Can you see the gorilla baby’s head?


A family affair

Next time you visit the zoo, see if you can identify the two gorilla families that live there and which one is Akenji.

One family consists of a male silverback gorilla named Kwame, three adult females named Nadiri, Akenji, and Uzumma, two young females named Yola and Zuna, and a male youngster named Kitoko.

The other gorilla family includes a male silverback named Nadaya and three adult females named Jumoke, Olympia, and Jamani.

Baby gorilla

Kitoko and Zuna, seen here participating in “gorilla shenanigans”, will soon have a new playmate! Photo by Annie Kwan/Woodland Park Zoo

When will the baby arrive?

Wonder when the new baby gorilla will arrive? Well, no one knows for sure. Just like when your mom and dad were waiting for you to be born, Akenji’s family and the zookeepers will have to wait and see. Some of the zookeepers are guessing what day that will be. What is your guess?


You can help WPZ gorillas 

Gorilla baby

Your family can help the zoo’s gorilla program! Do you have old cell phones and other used devices at your house that you don’t use anymore? Bring them to the zoo and place them in drop boxes located at both zoo entrances. A company called ECO-CELL will recycle them so they don’t end up in a place that hurts the environment and will give money to Woodland Park Zoo for all the phones and devices collected. 

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About the Author

Ruth Purcell

Ruth Purcell writes and recreates in West Seattle. She digs being with family and friends, wildlife (especially birds and harbor seals) gardening, and anything on the water.