Human medics and vets worked together to deliver a baby gorilla via emergency caesarean at Bristol Zoo Gardens, a first for the organisation.
The female infant western lowland gorilla was delivered after her mother, Kera, showed symptoms of potentially life-threatening pre-eclampsia.
Following an assessment by Bristol Zoo’s team of in-house vets, expert treatment was provided by David Cahill, a professor in reproductive medicine and medical education at the University of Bristol and gynaecologist at St Michael’s Hospital.
Despite having delivered hundreds of babies by caesarean in his career, this was the first time Prof Cahill had delivered a baby gorilla using the procedure.
He said: “Having been involved with the care of these gorillas over the years, with some trepidation and excitement, we were invited to the zoo to assess the well-being of Kera, because she was in late pregnancy and showed some signs of being unwell.
“Following our assessment, we considered Kera might have a condition humans get and the only way to treat it was by delivery. We also thought the baby in her uterus was showing signs of being very unwell and in need of delivery. My colleague from St Michael’s Hospital, Aamna Ali, and I prepared for this extraordinary caesarean section, and delivered a little girl gorilla.”
Prof Cahill said: “Along with having my own children, this is probably one of the biggest achievements of my life and something I will certainly never forget. I have since been back to visit Kera and the baby gorilla, it was wonderful to see them both doing so well.”
The baby, which is yet to be named and weighed just over a kilo (2lbs 10oz) at birth, needed help from vets before it was able to breathe independently, but is now doing well and is being hand-reared by experienced gorilla keepers.
Kera is recovering and is being closely monitored by keepers and the zoo’s in-house veterinary team.
Bristol Zoo staff vet Rowena Killick assisted with the procedure and immediate treatment of the baby, including performing emergency resuscitation.
She said: “This was a very challenging operation and we are immensely grateful for the expert help we received, which meant we were able to give care at the very highest level.
“The baby needed some intensive care immediately after birth and it is still very early days, but we are cautiously optimistic and will be keeping a very close eye on both her and Kera.”
Curator of mammals, Lynsey Bugg, is one of a small team of keepers providing care for the infant.
She said: “The first few days were critical for the baby, it was vital that she was kept warm and began taking small amounts of formula milk. We started “skin-to-skin” contact – a process used with human newborn babies – and she responded well to this and is getting stronger and more alert each day.”
Bristol Zoo would like to extend its thanks to Prof Cahill and Dr Ali for their treatment of Kera and the baby, and Nic Hayward, of Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging, for providing emergency ultrasound scanning of Kera.
While the gorilla house is open as normal, the baby gorilla is not currently on show to the public.