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Gorilla pregnant at WPZ

Akenj, a 22-year-old gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo, will be expecting her first baby in late June or early July. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo)

Baby gorilla expected soon at Woodland Park Zoo

The expectant mom, Akenji, is now taking parenting classes

One of the western lowland gorillas living at Woodland Park Zoo will become a first-time mom this summer, according to zoo officials.

Akenji, 22 years old, is due to give birth at the end of June or early July. The expectant gorilla was also born at Woodland Park Zoo. The new baby’s dad is Kwame, a 24-year-old who is also the father Kitoko (born March 2020) and Zuna (born January 2021).

Can you see her belly?

But don’t expect to see a baby bump if you visit the zoo before Akenji delivers.

“It’s hard to notice a belly because gorillas characteristically have big bellies due to the high volume of fibrous vegetation they digest,” Rachel Vass, an interim animal care manager at Woodland Park Zoo, explained in the zoo’s pregnancy announcement . “However, 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.”

Child rearing classes for Akenji

The zoo’s staff have been taking extra measures to prepare Akenji for baby care in light of her mom, Jumoke’s inability to show appropriate maternal behaviors after giving birth to her. Instead, a matriarch gorilla living in another family at the zoo helped raise Akenji.  
“To help ensure Akenji will bond with and raise her infant, we have been providing maternal skills training,” said Vass. “We’re target training Akenji to pick up a burlap ‘baby doll’ and bring it to her breast to practice feeding and also present it to gorilla staff if supplemental feedings become necessary.”

For gorillas, exposure to babies and young gorillas is especially beneficial for maternal skills development. Akenji has had quality exposure to infant gorillas and watching them grow, explained Vass. The youngsters in Akenj’s family group include 8-year-old Yola, 4-year-old Kitoko, and 3-year-old Zuna. 

“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. This important exposure and interaction should play out to have important benefits of being a good mom to her own offspring,” added Vass.

A successful breeding program

Woodland Park Zoo has long had a successful gorilla breeding program. With ample prenatal and postnatal care including regular veterinary check-ups leading up to the birth, a diet created by a nutritionist, and supplemental vitamins. In addition, 

In fact, the mom-to-be has already experienced technologies that most human moms experience in pregnancy. Zoo staff learned she was pregnant from the same two pink lines that show up on a human pregnancy test and she’s been trained to sit through non-invasive ultrasound exams, which will be performed periodically throughout the next several months.

That’s a definite YES! Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

The gorillas at Woodland Park Zoo currently live in two separate families. Group one consists of silverback (adult male gorilla) Kwame, adult females Nadiri, Akenji, and Uzumma, juvenile females Yola and Zuna, daughters of Nadiri, and juvenile male Kitoko, son of Kwame and Uzumma. Group two consists of silverback Nadaya and adult females Jumoke, Olympia, and Jamani.

Because the baby is expected in the summertime, it may be introduced to the public sooner after its arrival.

“For newborn gorillas to be outdoors, outside temperatures must be at least 65°F in the outdoor shelter, where there are radiant heaters to keep the gorillas warm during cool temperatures,” says WPZ spokesperson Gigi Allianic. “Because this birth will occur in the summer, mom and baby should be introduced outdoors to the public soon after the birth as long as Akenji and baby are sufficiently bonded and nursing is occurring. We can’t wait!”

While some animals babes born at the zoo have been named with public input, Allianic says zoo officials haven’t determined yet on how Akenji’s baby will be named. Check the zoo’s blog regularly for updates.

Help gorillas in their natural range

Your family can help the zoo’s gorilla program by recycling old cell phones and other used handheld electronics through ECO-CELL, which operates a strict “no landfill” program and reimburses organizations for recyclable contributions. Just bring used handheld electronics to drop-boxes located at both zoo entrances.
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