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NC Zoo saddened by gorilla stillbirth

Posted on 06/30/11

Asheboro, NC - North Carolina Zoo officials are deeply saddened to announce that the baby gorilla expected to be born this summer has been lost to a stillbirth.

Keepers at the Forest Glade Gorilla Exhibit arrived around 7 a.m. Thursday to find that female gorilla Jamani had given birth overnight. But they "were heartbroken to discover" that the baby had apparently been stillborn, according to General Curator Ken Reininger.

The infant appeared to be fully developed, Reininger said, and Jamani showed strong maternal instincts by carrying the baby and trying to care for it. But it was quickly determined that the male infant had not survived the birth.

Jamani was allowed to keep the baby, "until she made peace with what had happened and abandoned it," Reininger said, noting that it is not uncommon for first-time gorilla mothers to experience stillbirths. But the event should better prepare Jamani for motherhood in the future, Reininger added.

Animal Division staff are consulting with colleagues nationally on whether Jamani should be allowed to become pregnant again immediately or give her some time to recover, Reininger said. But no decision has been made at this time.

According to Chief Veterinarian Dr. Mike Loomis, laboratory tests on tissues and other samples from the infant may help determine the cause of the stillbirth. But those tests could take several weeks and may not be definitive, Loomis added.

In a related development, a 15-year-old female gorilla, Olympia, will be transferred to the N.C. Zoo from Zoo Atlanta next month. But that transfer had been planned before Thursday's developments, Reininger said, as part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSPs are cooperative programs developed by U.S. zoos to improve the captive care and management of more than 300 endangered species.

Jamani, age 11, was transferred to the N.C. Zoo from the San Diego Zoo as part of the Gorilla SSP in January 2010. The father, Nkosi, 19, arrived from the Columbus Zoo in March 2008, and another female gorilla, Acacia, 16, came to Asheboro from the Oklahoma City Zoo in 2010. All three transfers were made at the suggestion of the Gorilla SSP to expand the family group.

Currently there are only about 350 gorillas in 52 AZA-accredited zoos with just six successful births recorded during 2010. Had Jamani's delivery been successful, it would have been only the second gorilla birth in the N.C. Zoo's history.

The zoo's first baby gorilla, Kwanza, was born in March 1989 and was transferred to Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo in 1998 in another breeding move coordinated by the Gorilla SSP. Kwanza, whose name was shortened to "Kwan" by the Lincoln Park staff, became a father himself in 2005.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Dee Freeman, Secretary; Beverly Eaves Perdue, Governor.

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