Celebration turned to sadness Wednesday at the N.C. Zoo after a newborn western lowland gorilla was found dead, possibly the result of his mother having rolled over him in her sleep.
The baby, a not-yet-named male, was born by cesarean section Sunday after his mother, Acacia, had endured about 24 hours of labor. The baby and mother were separated after birth so veterinarians could stabilize the baby and allow Acacia to recover from sedation.
We conducted a complete exam on Tuesday morning and nothing seemed abnormal, said Dr. Mike Loomis, the zoos chief veterinarian. The baby was taking the bottle feedings well and was not dehydrated. And we felt the mother had recovered enough to take care of him.
Zookeepers were concerned that as a first-time mother, and because she had been sedated during the birth, Acacia might not take over the rearing of the baby.
But once reunited with him, Acacia was very protective of the baby and seemed to be nursing well, according to Chris Goldston, animal management supervisor for the zoos gorillas.
Staff checked on the pair through the night Tuesday, and on one of the checks found the baby dead in the mothers arms. The death was confirmed just after 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Its really unfortunate, Loomis said. But those are the chances you have to take in these kinds of situations. We have to give the mother every opportunity to care for the baby on her own.
Adrian Fowler, curator of mammals, said indications are that the babys death was accidental.
Primate mothers often lose their first baby due to inexperience or just accidentally. But they usually go on to successful births in the future, Fowler said.
The staff believes Acacia may have just rolled over onto her newborn while sleeping. Gorillas face exactly the same risks during the early neonatal period as humans and, even in that field, the causes of early infant death often remain unknown.
The baby was the third gorilla born at the zoo since August, a rare bounty in the world of captive gorillas; until then, the N.C. Zoological Park had not had a gorilla birth since baby Kwanzas arrival in 1989.
Western lowland gorillas are classified as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. There are about 350 gorillas in 52 zoos in North America, including Acacia, two other females, their babies, and the babies father, Nkosi, at the N.C. Zoo near Asheboro.