Prague Zoo mourning still birth of gorilla baby

Kamba, photo: MF Dnes, 12.4.07

This week, caretakers at Prague Zoo were expecting to celebrate. Thirty-five year old Kamba, the oldest gorilla in the pavilion, was due to give birth to her first baby. But what was to be a day of joy ended in tragedy. The baby was still born and doctors spent over an hour saving Kamba's life.

When the news broke on Tuesday night that Kamba was in labour, a veterinarian, gynaecologist, and anaesthesiologist were ready to step in if things got complicated. Unfortunately they did. As thousands watched the birth live on the internet, the group of doctors already suspected that the baby that Kamba was trying to push out was dead. Kamba had most probably cut off her baby's only access to oxygen when she bit through the umbilical cord while its head was still in the womb.

For several hours people watched as Kamba struggled. Throughout her ordeal, the other gorillas in the pavilion never left her side. By the time the legs and one arm were visible, Kamba was too weak to continue. Instead of head first, the baby was positioned legs first. That and the fact that the other hand was close to the head made it impossible for Kamba to complete the labour without help. Fearing for Kamba's life, doctors put her to sleep and operated on her. Marek Zdansky, the main caretaker at the pavilion, explains why Kamba had to suffer for hours before doctors could step in:

"If doctors had tried to get the baby out earlier, they would have had to perform a caesarean. In gorillas, this is very dangerous because they tend to pull out the stitches and that leads to further complications. Kamba suffered cardiac arrest before the operation began, so we're lucky that she survived. The baby was a little boy that weighed just under two kilos. His body was fully developed. An autopsy has yet to confirm whether the torn umbilical cord was the cause of death. But the baby's position also complicated the birth."

Kamba is one of the last gorillas in a European zoo to have been born in the wild. She had been in captivity in Germany, Poland, and the Dvur Kralove zoo in East Bohemia, before being brought to Prague.

"The fact that she originates from the wild is very important and I was very eager to have her come to Prague. It took four years of persuading before she was finally transferred to our zoo. I believed that she was fertile but never had a baby because her five partners were sterile. Since we already had proof that our male gorilla Richard was fertile I wanted her here. So when she was confirmed pregnant, I was glad that I was right. Everything went well but the final step - the most important step failed."

Kamba is now back in the pavilion and has started communicating with her caretakers and the other gorillas. Although she is the oldest in the group, Prague Zoo has not given up hope that she will soon get pregnant again.

This June, another gorilla baby is expected to liven up the pavilion at Prague Zoo. The expecting mother, Kijibu, gave birth to Moya, the first gorilla to be born in captivity in the country, almost three years ago.