Update: Just one week after we listened to her heartbeat in utero (see original post below), this critically endangered western lowland gorilla was born at Melbourne Zoo! Staff managed to catch the entire birth on camera, and are happy to report it happened naturally with no need for interference from the veterinary team. 

 

In what is believed to be a first for the folks Down Under, staff at Melbourne Zoo recently got a rare chance to listen to the heartbeat of an unborn gorilla. Using an ultrasound scanner to hear the ape in utero (and some tasty yoghurt to distract the mother-to-be), zookeepers were able to confirm that the baby’s heartbeat is within the normal range.

For some keepers, the moment was almost too much: ”To be completely honest I nearly peed myself," admits senior primate keeper, Damian Lewis. "It was very exciting for us to see and hear the heartbeat. It was something that we've been working towards for 14 years. Just to see that there's going to be a new little one on the way and actually have evidence of that, was very exciting for us."

Kimye, a western lowland gorilla, is due to give birth any day now and zoo staff are on high alert. The pregnant female’s enclosure has been rigged up like the Big Brother house. Cameras have been set up that allow the keepers eight different views into Kimya’s night dens as well as four views of the Gorilla Rainforest exhibit. A carefully planned roster ensures that keepers are observing the pregnant female 24/7, and senior vet Dr Helen McCracken has briefed staff on identifying the signs of labour.

It’s hoped that no intervention will be required for the birthing process; however, McCracken points out that “not all births go smoothly, and this is Kimya’s first pregnancy, so although she is young and healthy we need to be ready if she does need any help.”

The new arrival will be the first gorilla birth at the zoo since April 2000. Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in the wild so Kimya’s baby will be a vital addition for the species.

Header image: John (little time)