Asheboro, NC - In one of the saddest events in the history of the North Carolina Zoo, a baby gorilla born last weekend died overnight Tuesday. Although the cause of death may never be certain, zoo staff believe the mother, "Acacia," may have inadvertently rolled over on the infant in her sleep. The death was confirmed around 1 a.m. Wednesday.

The unnamed male baby had overcome a problematic arrival beginning Sunday when zoo veterinarians were forced to perform a caesarean section on the first-time gorilla mother. Acacia had gone through a difficult 24 hours of labor before the c-section resulted in a successful delivery. The unusual delivery marked the third gorilla birth at the State Zoo since August 2012. On average, only five gorillas are born annually in all U.S. zoos.

"Acacia had already been through problems with her first born," observed Dr. Adrian Fowler, the zoo's Curator of Mammals. "But against all the odds, she had successfully seen her way through a long labor, a c-section and the initial reintroduction of her baby. This in itself was no trivial process for our team of top veterinarians and experienced animal staff."

Over the first 48 hours keepers maintained the baby's strength and hydration with bottle feedings. By Tuesday, still recovering from the surgery, Acacia began showing encouraging interest in the baby as keepers continued to provide care for the infant at her side.

"The signs were so positive," said Chris Goldston, animal management supervisor for the gorillas. "The consensus among our staff and from consultations with highly experienced colleagues at other zoos was that we should try to reunite the two as soon as possible.

"To everyone's surprise, Acacia eagerly took possession of the baby and the initial signs were very encouraging," Goldston added. "As the day progressed, the new mother was very protective of her son and appeared to be nursing well. All the signs were that the evening would be quite uneventful."

Sadly, during one of the round-the-clock checks scheduled Tuesday night, staff found that the baby had died, although it remained in the arms of its mother.

"We confirmed his death just after 1 a.m.," Fowler said. "Early indications are that it was most likely 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."

"The staff believes Acacia may have just rolled over onto her newborn while sleeping," Fowler continued. "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."

According to N.C. Zoo Chief Veterinarian Dr. Mike Loomis, all the physical signs and examinations done over the first three days indicated the newborn was healthy.
"We conducted a complete exam on Tuesday morning and nothing seemed abnormal," Loomis recalled. "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.
"It's really unfortunate," Loomis added. "But those are the chances you have to take in these kind of situations. We have to give the mother every opportunity to care for the baby on her own."

Meanwhile, the two male gorillas born in August 2012, "Bomassa" and "Apollo," remain healthy and on exhibit exhibit daily with their parents. "Jamani," age 13, delivered the first gorilla born at the N.C. Zoo in 23 years when Bomassa arrived on August 4 of last year. The zoo's first infant gorilla, "Kwanza," has been born in March 1989. On August 31, 2012, 17-year-old "Olympia" gave birth to another male infant which keepers named "Apollo." The father of all three infants is "Nkosi," age 21, who arrived at the N.C. Zoo from the Columbus Zoo in Ohio in March 2008.

All four adults came to Asheboro and were recommended for breeding under the auspices of the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). The SSPs have been developed by AZA to improve the care and breeding of animals in captivity and include plans for more than 500 species.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, John E. Skvarla, III, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor.