In the zoo world, much of our time is spent preparing for all the things that could happen. Curators stress every wrinkle of an animal introduction, caregivers run drills for each imaginable scenario, veterinarians spend countless hours honing vital skills.
As we’ve seen, all this preparation is crucial when something does happen. Such was the case recently at Regenstein Center for African Apes, where baby gorilla Nayembi suffered a serious facial injury last week.
Thankfully, the planning worked. Our Animal Care staff jumped into action, separating the 3-month-old infant with its mother from the rest of the group, as they’d practiced. Our veterinary staff was prepped for surgery soon after, and I’m happy to report the baby gorilla seems to be in stable condition behind the scenes at the zoo’s C.H. “Doc” Searle, M.D. Animal Hospital.
Her recovery isn’t a certainty—we find few certainties with such fragile infants, nearly a quarter of whom don’t make it through their first year of life. But she’s playing throughout the day and getting plenty of sleep, just like an infant should. These are good signs.
We aren’t sure precisely what caused the injury, although it appears to have been inflicted by another gorilla. We can say there were no prior indications of aggression in the gorilla troop.
What’s next? Zoo staff have redoubled group monitoring to ensure a stable environment for the other members, which includes Nayembi’s mother, Rollie, and the group’s other infant, Patty, who remains in the capable hands of mom Bana. Nayembi will continue to receive full-time care over the next months as she recovers away from her group.
It’s been a difficult few days, filled with worry for everyone at the zoo. As we reflect on the complexity of caring for wild animals, we’re comforted by our comprehensive planning. We prepared for this sad, unlikely possibility. This preparation let us react with the speed and expertise necessary to give Nayembi the care she needed.
We’ll continue to provide updates as Nayembi recovers. We all hope for the best—and will work around the clock to ensure it.