A rare baby gorilla has become the first in the UK to be successfully born after an emergency caesarean – performed by a top gynaecologist.
The remarkable operation was carried out after mother Kera, a critically-endangered Western lowland gorilla, was diagnosed with life-threatening pre-eclampsia.
Tests revealed her baby was becoming unresponsive and keepers at Bristol Zoo called in doctors from the local NHS maternity hospital.
They successfully carried out an emergency c-section on the 11 year-old mother – delivering the yet-to-be named baby girl weighing 2lbs 10oz on February 12.
Astonishing footage shows the tiny human-like animal being pulled from its mother’s tummy before vets perform emergency resuscitation and she takes a deep first breath.
It is understood to be the first successful c-section delivery of a gorilla in the UK – and one of fewer than ten in the world.
The baby girl is now being given round-the-clock care by a team of experts at Bristol Zoo where the operation took place.
Prof David Cahill, expert in reproductive medicine at Bristol University and gynaecologist at Bristol’s St Michael’s Hospital, was one of two doctors who performed the surgery.
He has performed hundreds of human caesarian operations in his career but said delivering the baby gorilla was something special.
He said: “Along with having my own children, this is probably one of the biggest achievements of my life and something I will certainly never forget.
“I have since been back to visit Kera and the baby gorilla, it was wonderful to see them both doing so well.”
He added: “Having been involved with the care of these gorillas over the years, with some trepidation and excitement, we were invited to the Zoo to assess the well-being of Kera, because she was in late pregnancy and showed some signs of being unwell.
“Following our assessment, we considered that Kera might have a condition that humans get (pre-eclampsia) and that the only way to treat it was by delivery.
“We also thought that the baby in her uterus was showing signs of being very unwell and in need of delivery.
“My colleague from St Michael’s hospital, Dr Aamna Ali, and I prepared for this extraordinary caesarean section, and delivered a little girl gorilla.”
Kera was rejected by her mother at Barcelona Zoo in 2004 and was hand-reared alongside other young gorillas at a specialist ape nursery in Stuttgart, Germany.
She arrived in Bristol to join six other Western gorillas in September 2008 and last year she became pregnant after mating with nine-year-old Komale.
But she started to show signs of potentially life-threatening pre-eclampsia – a condition that affects some pregnant women, usually during the second half of pregnancy.
The exact cause of pre-eclampsia isn’t known, but is thought to occur when there is a problem with the placenta.
It causes extremely high blood pressure which can only be reversed by giving birth.
On February 12 Kera became very poorly and a scan revealed that her unborn baby gorilla was becoming unresponsive.
She was given a general anaesthetic in the zoo’s on-site clinic, and Prof Cahill and Dr Ali performed the caesarean, assisted by Bristol Zoo staff vet Rowena Killic.
The baby needed help from vets before it was able to breathe independently and the video shows it being intubated, with Rowena Killick breathing into the tube.
Experts rub the baby’s chest and moments pass before they clear her mouth and she takes a huge deep breathe.
It is believed that this is the second or third time a baby gorilla has been born by caesarean section in the UK – but the first time the infant has survived.
Less than ten successful caesareans have taken place at zoos around the world.
John Partridge, senior curator of animals at Bristol Zoo, said: “The birth of any gorilla is a rare and exciting event but the birth of a baby gorilla by caesarean section is even more unusual.
“It wasn’t a decision that we took lightly – Kera was becoming quite poorly and we needed to act fast in order to give the best possible treatment to mother and baby, and to avoid the possibility of losing the baby.”
Vet Rowena Killick said: “This was a very challenging operation and we are immensely grateful for the expert help we received which meant we were able to give care at the very highest level.”
The mum and baby have been separated while the adult is recovering and the baby is being monitored closely by keepers. Neither are currently on-show at the zoo.
Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered although they remain more common than their relatives, the mountain gorillas.
The exact number of western lowland gorillas is not known because they inhabit some of the most dense and remote rainforests in Africa, but there are around 550 in zoos around the world.
They have a gestation period of around 255 days, compared to a 280-day human pregnancy.