Earlier this week, an 18-year-old gorilla named Imami gave birth to a baby girl at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. She was closely monitored throughout the labor process by the zoo's veterinary staff, and when she showed no signs of progress, she was transported to the Safari Park hospital for an emergency c-section. In an official statement, the zoo said:
The full-term baby, weighing 4.6 pounds, was delivered by a team of San Diego Zoo Global staff and outside consultants, including a veterinary surgeon and human neonatal specialists from UCSD Medical Center. The baby is showing some complications believed to be related to the difficult labor, and she is currently in intensive care receiving oxygen and supplemental fluids at the veterinary hospital. Imani is recovering from surgery in the familiar surroundings of the gorilla bedroom area.
"In retrospect the c-section was the right decision," Nadine Lamberski, associate director of veterinary services at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park said of the newborn gorilla. "We think the health of the fetus would have been compromised if we delayed the surgery any longer," Lamberski said.
While it is rare to conduct a cesarean with a gorilla, it isn't unheard of. One case study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association describes a gorilla delivery via cesarean in 1978 at the Los Angeles Zoo:
A mature lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) in the Los Angeles Zoo had destroyed 3 successive infants. To avoid a recurrence, active intervention was instituted during its 4th pregnancy. The period of gestation was estimated by physical examination, radiography, and amniocentesis. Intrauterine growth was followed by serial ultrasonographic cephalometry. When fetal maturity was achieved, as determined by amniotic fluid phospholipid profile, the fetus was delivered by cesarean section.
NBC San Diego is reporting that the delivery wasn't entirely free of complications, however. Two days after the birth, the infant was brought back to the hospital so that vets could treat her for a collapsed lung:
Vets had been monitoring the baby gorilla around-the-clock since her birth and noticed she was experiencing increased respiratory distress. The baby animal's heart rate became elevated and she was breathing very rapidly. After conducting a chest X-ray, veterinarians confirmed that the baby gorilla had a collapsed lung.
So, on Friday morning, a team of vets and animal care specialists gathered to perform the procedure. They were also joined by a neonatal specialist and anesthesiologist from the University of California, San Diego Health System.
The tiny gorilla was carefully intubated and specialists suctioned out a mucus plug that was in her right lung. Park officials believe it likely aspirated at the time of the baby gorilla's complicated delivery. Following the procedure, the medical team re-inflated the critter's lung.
After monitoring the baby animal, specialists concluded that both lungs were fully inflated and called the procedure a success.
Combined, the two sub-species of gorilla are classified by the IUCN as "critically endangered." In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation, the main threats for gorillas' survival in the wild are illegal bushmeat hunting as well as the Ebola virus. Since 1988, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, together with various wildlife and conservation partners, has worked to sustain a captive population of gorillas through what's called a Species Survival Plan. Taking into account demographic and genetic data as well as available space at the 52 accredited zoos that house gorillas, the SSP develops breeding recommendations to ensure a viable, healthy, genetically diverse population.
[San Diego Zoo and NBC San Diego]