Review of Reproduction in Captive Western Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla), 1996–2016
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2017
Erin Berlin1, DVM; Mary Thurber2, DVM; Roby Elsner3, BS; Nadine Lamberski4, DVM, DACZM
1College of Veterinary Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, CA, USA; 2School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California-Davis, Davis, CA, USA; 3Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA; 4San Diego Zoo Global, San Diego, CA, USA


To gain an understanding of the prevalence of veterinary intervention during parturition and neonatal care of gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) in captivity, a survey was sent to all of the zoological institutions associated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla Species Survival Plan® (SSP). Of the 53 institutions contacted, 50 responded to the survey (94.3%), with a total of 192 births reported between 1996–2016. Of these 192 reported births, there were five incidences of prolonged labor (longer than 6 h; 2.6%), six cases of cesarean section (3.1%), and one incidence of veterinary intervention that did not involve a cesarean section. According to the survey responses, 51 infants out of 186 live births (27.4%; 95% confidence interval 20.8–33.2%) were hand-reared or required veterinary intervention lasting longer than 24 h. Out of 33 attempts to reintroduce neonates to the family group, 25 were successful (78.8%, 95% CI 62.0–89.6%); of 17 attempts to introduce neonates to surrogates, 15 were successful (88.2%, 95% CI 64.1–98.0%). Nine introduction attempts (18.3%, 95% CI 9.8–31.2%) were deemed failures, with one (2.0%, 95% CI<0.001–11.7%) resulting in the death of the infant. Compared to data from a similar survey conducted in 1981, the percentage of hand-reared gorillas has decreased from 64% to 27.4% (p<0.0001);1 however, there is a high success rate of reintroduction after intervention during birth (cesarean section or other) to either the natal troop or a surrogate. This indicates that intervention during parturition could be lower risk than previously thought, and could be considered as an alternative to natural birth in high-risk pregnancies.


The authors would like to thank the Gorilla SSP for supporting this project, as well as the ABQ BioPark Zoo, Audubon Zoo, Birmingham Zoo, Buffalo Zoo, Busch Gardens Tampa Zoo, Calgary Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo, Cincinatti Zoo and Botanical Garden, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Dallas Zoo, Denver Zoological Gardens, Detroit Zoological Society, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Erie Zoo, Fort Worth Zoo, Gladys Porter Zoo, Granby Zoo, Houston Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Kansas City Zoo, Knoxville Zoological Gardens, Lincoln Park Zoological Gardens, Little Rock Zoological Gardens, Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Louisville Zoological Garden, Memphis Zoological Gardens and Aquarium, Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens, North Carolina Zoological Park, Oklahoma City Zoological Park, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, Project Chimps, Riverbanks Zoological Park, San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens, Sedgwick County Zoo, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Saint Louis Zoo, St. Paul’s Como Zoo, Toledo Zoological Gardens, Topeka Zoological Park, Toronto Zoo, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, Woodland Park Zoological Gardens, Zoo Atlanta, Zoo Miami and Zoo New England for their participation in this study.

Literature Cited

1.  Satterfield WC, Kiser JP. A review of postparturient management of gorilla neonates. Proc Am Assoc Zoo Vet; 1981.


Speaker Information
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Erin Berlin, DVM
College of Veterinary Medicine
Western University of Health Sciences
Pomona, CA, USA

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