Local zoo welcomes baby gorilla to first time mother

Jul 2, 2024, 3:29 PM | Updated: 6:41 pm

Photo: Akenji's baby boy sleeping on a gorilla keeper at the Woodland Park Zoo....

Akenji's baby boy sleeping on a gorilla keeper at the Woodland Park Zoo. (Photo: Rachel Vass, Woodland Park Zoo)

(Photo: Rachel Vass, Woodland Park Zoo)

UPDATE: July 2, 2024, at 3 p.m.

Woodland Park Zoo’s gorilla Akenji has had her first baby and it’s a boy. The zoo announced the birth on Monday via a news release, stating the baby was born June 28 at 10:30 a.m.

Photo: Woodland Park Zoo welcomes baby gorilla.

Woodland Park Zoo welcomes baby gorilla. (Photo: Rachel Vass, Woodland Park Zoo)

The birth followed a nine-month gestation period, according to the zoo, with the end resulting in a healthy baby.

“The average weight for a gorilla at birth is 4 pounds and we’re pleased to report our new boy weighs 4.4 pounds. His vital signs are good and he is healthy and physically normal,” Dr. Yousuf Jafarey, Associate Veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo, said via the news release.

The zoo stated gorilla staff provided months of maternal care training and skills to Akenji but unfortunately, she did not show maternal instincts. Within an hour of delivery, staff intervened for the baby’s safety.

“Although we have been encouraging maternal behaviors, Akenji still hasn’t shown any promising signs of interest to bond with her baby,” Rachel Vass, Interim Animal Care Manager at Woodland Park Zoo said. “Because she demonstrated capable maternal behaviors throughout her training program, we’re disappointed and a little surprised those instincts haven’t kicked in.”

“As we continue to hand-rear her baby for the short term, the positive news is that he remains healthy, he has a great appetite and strong grip, and he is getting bigger every day,” she added.

The zoo said Akenji and her family will be viewable in their outdoor habitat mid-morning to mid-afternoon while the baby remains off-view in the dens.

Original story

The Woodland Park Zoo announced, in March via a news release, that one of their western lowland gorillas is expecting.

The zoo discovered the 22-year-old gorilla’s pregnancy with the same type of test a human would use.

Two pink lines appeared, revealing Akenji — is pregnant.

Photo: The test revealed two pink lines which means the 22-year-old gorilla, Akenji, is pregnant.

The test revealed two pink lines which means the 22-year-old gorilla, Akenji, is pregnant. (Photo courtesy of the Woodland Park Zoo)

Akenji will give birth around the end of June or early July, as the gestation period for gorillas is eight to nine months.

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The zoo said this will be Akenji’s first time experiencing motherhood.

Photo: Akenji in 2020

Akenji in 2020 (Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren via the Woodland Park Zoo)

Interim animal care manager at Woodland Park Zoo, Rachel Vass, said it’s hard to see Akenji’a baby bump through her naturally prominent belly.

“It’s hard to notice a belly bump because gorillas characteristically have big bellies due to the high volume of fibrous vegetation they digest,” Vass said. “However, our gorilla care staff notice 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.”

Akenji was born at Woodland Park. However, her mother didn’t show the appropriate maternal behaviors so Akenji was sent to another family, wrote the zoo.

Zoo takes extra measures to prepare gorilla for motherhood

The zoo said because Akenji wasn’t raised by her mom, staff have been taking extra measures to prepare her for raising a baby.

“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.”

The zoo has also exposed Akenji to 8-year-old Yola, 4-year-old Kitoka and 3-year-old Zena.

“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,” Vass said.

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Photo: Akenji in 2022

Akenji in 2022. (Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren via the Woodland Park Zoo)

Akenji’s baby will be the third of its father, Kwame.

Kwame, 24, is the father of the last two gorillas born at the zoo. His son Kitoko was born in March 2020 and his daughter Zuna was born in January 2021.

Over the next few months, Akenji will get ultrasounds, a special diet, and other pre-natal care, according to the zoo.

The zoo is also encouraging animal lovers to recycle their old cellphones and electronics through “ECO-CELL” to help preserve gorillas’ natural habitats.

This story was originally published on March 15, 2024, at 4:15 p.m. It has been updated since then.

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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