After going more than 20 years with no gorilla births, the N.C. Zoo is celebrating a little primate population explosion with Sunday’s arrival of a new infant, the third gorilla born at the zoo in less than a year.
All three babies are males. This one was born by Cesarean section after his mother, Acacia, endured about 24 hours of labor without making progress.
By noon Monday, the infant had stabilized, and keepers hoped to place him with his mother by Monday night, said Adrain Fowler, the zoo’s curator of mammals.
Zoo spokesman Rod Hackney said the mother and baby were separated after the birth because Acacia had been sedated through the process and the infant needed care. It’s not clear, Hackney said, whether Acacia will accept the infant and rear him, but she has watched the other two females in the group raise their young.
If Acacia doesn’t accept the baby – not yet named – zookeepers hope one of the other new mothers will take over for her. As they might in the wild, the three babies share the same father, a silverback Western lowland gorilla named Nkosi, a 20-year-old who arrived from the Columbus Zoo in March 2008.
The N.C. Zoo, opened near Asheboro in the 1970s under the state’s Department of Natural Resources, saw its first baby gorilla arrive in 1989 when Kwanza was born to parents Hope and Carlos. Like all zoo babies, and especially primate babies, Kwanza was a popular attraction who helped increase zoo attendance in his first year.
Despite repeated efforts, the zoo was unable to coax successful pairings to result in subsequent births until Aug. 4, 2012, when Jamani gave birth to Bomassa. Then, on Aug. 31, Olympia gave birth to Apollo.
Acacia came to the N.C. Zoo in 2010 from the Oklahoma City Zoological Park. All four of the adult gorillas came to North Carolina under the auspices of the Gorilla Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, designed to improve the care and breeding of animals in captivity. There are about 350 gorillas housed in 52 zoos accredited by the association in North America.
“To have three female gorillas, all within the same group…get pregnant and give birth within an 11-month span is an extremely unusual event,” said Aaron Jesue, one of the zoo’s gorilla keepers.
Keepers don’t know when the new baby will go on exhibit.
In the meantime, the other two babies “have really hit peak cuteness,” Hackney said. “They’re starting to run around and play tag with each other and crawl on dad’s back, and do all the other things baby gorillas do.”