Pregnant 18-year-old Imani went into labor at the San Diego Zoo on Wednesday. When the veterinary staff realized that she was not progressing and the baby gorilla’s health could be at risk, they decided to perform a rare c-section on her. Though the park has done c-sections on other animals, this is the first time they have performed the surgery on a gorilla.
This was Imani’s first pregnancy. She was considered high risk because of her age, which is on the older side for having a first baby and because she only weighs 200 pounds, which is on the low side for a full-grown gorilla.
When the veterinary staff noticed signs of the baby gorilla’s lungs collapsing, they decided to perform an emergency c-section. The staff was also concerned about Imani’s labored breathing and fast heart rate.
The San Diego veterinary staff was joined by a UC San Diego Medical Center neonatal specialist. They put Imani under anesthesia at the Safari Park veterinary hospital and performed an emergency surgery to remove the baby.
It’s a girl! Born at 6:30 p.m., the baby gorilla weighed in at 4.6 pounds. The park staff believes her lungs were aspirated during the delivery, but the specialists were able to remove the mucus plug from her lung, re-inflate it and are now seeing signs of success. The unnamed newborn has received oxygen and fluids and remains in intensive care. She is being given around the clock care until they can be sure she is stable.
Nadine Lamberski, the associate director of veterinary services at the San Diego Zoo states that the baby gorilla is “extremely strong.” She is following her instincts and grabbing onto the staff with both her hands and feet. She is also able to grasp, suckle and make sounds, all of which is encouraging.
The veterinary staff believes they made the right decision by doing the surgery. They fear that the baby gorilla’s health may have suffered if they had not taken action and performed the rare c-section. “We think the health of the fetus would have been compromised if we delayed the surgery any longer,” Lamberski said.
The veterinary team hopes that the baby gorilla will gain strength and eventually be able to enjoy the grassy slope, cascading waterfall and climbing area of her new home. Meanwhile, Imani is still recovering from the surgery and will need a few days to regain her strength, but has returned to be with the other gorillas at the zoo.
Though the newborn gorilla was the first to be born by a rare c-section, she is not the first one born to the park. In fact, she makes the 17 gorilla born to the San Diego Zoo and her arrival makes a total of eight gorillas currently living at the park.
The entire process and the rare c-section were caught on tape. The video does not show the surgery, but the movement and cooing of the baby gorilla once it was born and cleaned up. It is shown swaddled like a baby and even dons a cute little hat.
By Tracy Rose