Tragedy cut short celebrations at a New Orleans zoo this week when a newborn gorilla, the first welcomed to the facility in more than two decades, died after six days.
“We are heartbroken over the loss,” Ron Forman, the president and CEO of the Audubon Nature Institute, said in a statement Thursday.
The baby didn’t have a name yet. It was born Sept. 4, the first offspring of Tumani, a 13-year-old member of the zoo’s gorilla troop.
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“Animal care staff noticed on Wednesday evening the gorilla infant seemed lethargic and weak in the arms of the mother,” the zoo said.
Veterinarians at the facility’s animal hospital were unable to revive it. A necropsy was expected to determine the cause of death, but preliminary evidence suggests Tumani might not have been producing enough milk, authorities said.
“There are many risks involved with gorilla births and unfortunately, it is not unusual for a first-time gorilla mom to lose an offspring,” said Dr. Robert MacLean, Audubon’s senior veterinarian.
Earlier this week, officials had said the mother and child were both doing well.
It was the Audubon Zoo’s first gorilla birth in 24 years – and officials celebrated with abundant fanfare.
Videos and photos of the duo playing and snuggling were posted on Twitter – and news outlets around the country covered the event.
The nonprofit zoo hosted a virtual “baby shower” for food and supplies, and touted its participation in a conservation effort focused on western lowland gorillas.
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The birth also marked new optimism at the zoo, which Forman said earlier this week lost an estimated $21 million due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Western lowland gorillas are slightly smaller than other subspecies, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They stand roughly 4 to 5.5 feet tall on their hind legs and weigh up to about 440 pounds.
They are on the critically endangered list and suffer in the wild from poaching and illness – including the Ebola virus, which experts say is devastating to primate populations in western Africa.
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According to Dr. Kyle Burks, the zoo’s COO and executive vice president, western lowland gorillas see mortality rates of more than 40 percent during their first year of life in the wild.