A critically endangered gorilla at the New Orleans Audubon Zoo is expecting her first baby. The last gorilla born at the Audobon Zoo was Praline, who is now 24. So, this pregnancy is a pretty big deal.
Tumani, father Okpara, and females Alafia and Praline are western lowland gorillas. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there were an estimated 362,000 in the wild in 20016—but their numbers were falling about 2.7% a year. This makes them critically endangered. Illegal hunting, habitat loss, and disease have contributed to their population’s decline.
And thirteen-year-old Tumani is getting ready for motherhood by practicing with a “doll” to help her adjust to a future of caretaking. The 160-pound expectant mother is receiving twice monthly ultrasounds and has undergone training on how to pick up the doll and hold it to her chest in preparation for nursing.
The Audubon Zoo’s chief veterinarian Dr. Robert MacClean said that Tumani’s doll doesn’t actually resemble a gorilla (a little stuffed gorilla would just be torn up) but instead is a “rugged section of canvas firehose tubing has been woven roughly to the proportions and weight of a 4-pound newborn gorilla.”
“We don’t want the baby by itself. We want it with the mother at all times,” MacLean explained. “If the baby’s on the ground, we want to be able to say, ‘Hey, pick it up.'”
“I haven’t seen it myself. Apparently it’s pretty ugly but it does the job.”
The doll serves an important purpose and this technique has been used before with Alafia, who has successfully raised a baby. Alafia will step in as Tumani’s baby’s foster mother in case Tumani cannot take care of the baby.
Tumani’s pregnancy “seems to be going well,” MacLean said. Her due date is anywhere between mid-July and Aug. 20, based on her mating with Okpara, a 26-year-old silverback who came to New Orleans in 2017 from the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.