Juggling Four Babies
As 2013 comes to an end, it’s a great time to reflect on the growth and development of the four infants under the care of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Primate Department. It’s a pleasure to watch the development of the two girls (gorillas Patty and Nayembi at Regenstein Center for African Apes) and two boys (white-cheeked gibbon Daxin and Francois’ langur Pierre).
The end of the year is also a great time to give thanks to the dedicated animal care staff for all the expertise and hard work they’ve devoted to these new infants, ensuring the little ones thrive in the care of their own mothers.
Even beyond the initial recommendation from the Population Management Center, a lot of planning and preparation goes into breeding animals at Lincoln Park Zoo. In the Primate Department, for example, birth management plans are written for each infant-to-be months in advance of their anticipated arrival into this world.
Expecting mothers often have their diet adjusted by the zoo’s veterinarians and nutrition manager to ensure they have the calories they need throughout their pregnancy. Keepers also employ operant conditioning training techniques to encourage pregnant mothers to voluntarily position themselves on a scale so animal care staff can routinely monitor their body weight.
Mothers-to-be are also trained to voluntarily present different body parts for visual inspection to monitor their body condition throughout their pregnancy. In some instances, we also try to prepare a pregnant female for specific mothering skills, such as simulating nursing by desensitizing them to a mock breast pump or desensitizing them to gentle pinching to simulate the tight cling of an infant. As the due date approaches, staff are prepared to monitor for signs of labor, and in many instances infrared cameras are set up for remote around-the-clock monitoring.
Following the birth, staff closely monitor the new mother-infant pair and record the frequency and length of nursing bouts to ensure the infant is appropriately receiving nourishment. Our goal is to intervene as little as possible to promote appropriate mother-infant bonding during the critical first 72 hours after a birth.
In the days, weeks, and months to follow, we refer to our birth management plan to ensure each infant developmental milestone is met. Staff are also well prepared for immediate intervention if a medical emergency should arise. In the case of gorilla Nayembi, who sustained a facial injury last February, the success of her recovery was largely due to our infant emergency response plan and our ability to immediately provide her with expert veterinary care.
Nayembi and her play partner Patty continue to thrive in their gorilla troop, surpassing one developmental milestone after the other. As for little Pierre, he’s already outgrown the majority of his orange-colored baby hair and is bouncing from branch to branch all on his own.
The youngest of our infants, Daxin, is just starting to reach out and touch branches and vines, but he’s still clinging to his mother, Burma, with at least one hand or foot.
Be sure to visit these infants in the upcoming months…time flies and these babies are growing up fast!
Maureen Leahy is Lincoln Park Zoo's curator of primates.
Happy Birthday to Our Baby Gorillas