Baby Gorillas Are Just Like Us, Kind Of

Mar 20, 2014 11:14am

From her C-section birth to her diapers and baby bottles, the San Diego Zoo’s newest gorilla is a lot like a human newborn — but not for long.

The baby girl, who has yet to be named, was born by a rare C-section March 12. Her mother, 18-year-old Imani, had been in labor for 12 hours — a normal stretch for human moms-to-be, but rare for gorillas.

“With gorillas, that’s very unusual,” zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons told “Four hours is long for them.”

The 4-pound, 9-ounce baby was quickly wrapped in a blanket and given a tiny knit hat reminiscent of those seen in human nurseries. She was then moved to a neonatal intensive care unit, where oxygen and fluids kept her strong through treatment for a collapsed lung and pneumonia — problems sometimes seen in preemies.


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But the tiny gorilla is growing faster, stronger (and hairier) than a human baby. Two days after her birth, she could hold her head up — a milestone typically reached around 3 months in human babies.

“She’s developing normally and very rapidly,” Nadine Lamberski, associate director of veterinary services at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, said in a statement.  ”She’s getting a lot of calories [from infant formula] and you can see that she changes every day.”


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The baby is also sucking her thumb, wearing diapers and clutching to her human caregivers, just like a human baby — well, almost.

“I would say that there are two things that differentiate her in how she acts compared to most babies that I take care of,” Dr. Dawn Reeves, a human neonatologist with UC San Diego Health System, said in a statement. “First, she’s a lot stronger when she grabs your hand. It’s very difficult to release her grip because that’s her instinct: to grab her mom. … Second, she can grab you with both her hands and her feet, which can be a little troublesome when trying to do procedures or exams.”


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Most baby gorillas walk within three-to-six months, according to the National Zoo, and they’re ready to leave their moms by age 3.

By age 7, female gorillas are ready to have families of their own.

The baby gorilla is expected to grow to a whopping 200 pounds. The typical lifespan for gorillas in zoos is 54 years.

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