Thursday morning, zookeepers at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium arrived to discover a newborn infant gorilla and the news that its mother was not a male gorilla.
The gorilla, Sully, has resided at the facility with her mother since 2019 and was thought to be male until “the gorilla care team discovered her holding the unexpected baby gorilla early on Thursday,” according to a zoo news release.
But how did the facility not realize Sully, age 8, was a female? Furthermore, she was pregnant?
The zoo stated in a press release that gorillas “do not have prominent sex organs” and that males and females appear similar until around the age of 8, noting that only later in life do males develop their large stature, silver backs, and distinctive head bumps.
In addition to having difficult-to-distinguish features, veterinarians at the zoo where the gorilla was born adopted a “hands-off approach” and allowed the primate to be raised by its mother, according to the Columbus Zoo.
Sully arrived in Columbus as a “young and healthy animal” and required no medical procedures that would have accelerated the discovery.
The pregnancy was also overlooked because “gorillas rarely show outward signs” of being pregnant because “newborns are smaller than human babies and gorillas have naturally large abdomens,” according to the press release.
Due to the eight and a half month gestation period of gorillas, the zoo estimates that Sully became impregnated in the autumn.
The endearing neonate appears to be a healthy female, according to the zoo. “The veterinary and animal care teams have not yet approached the infant, giving them time to bond with one another and the rest of the troop, but will conduct a wellness examination soon,” the facility stated in a press release.
Later, a DNA test will be conducted to determine the paternity of the neonate. According to the announcement, the new mother and infant will be on exhibit in the gorilla habitat as of Friday.
Columbus Zoo’s Mission: Protecting Endangered Western Lowland Gorillas
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Western lowland gorillas – the subspecies that resides at the Columbus Zoo – are critically endangered. The Columbus Zoo estimates that there are 100,000 remaining in the wild in central Africa. Their population has diminished due to habitat degradation, deforestation, and bushmeat poaching.
The unexpected discovery builds on the Columbus Zoo’s legacy of gorilla conservation. According to the release, the facility “was the first zoo in the world to welcome the birth of a baby gorilla” in 1956.
The unnamed offspring of Sully is the 34th gorilla born at the zoo, according to the release. The facility wrote, “She is an integral part of our efforts to conserve these magnificent animals.”