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Vet Does C-Section On Gorilla

First-person report by Della Garell, D.V.M., our electronic vet, exclusively at

It all began with the female lowland gorilla, Juju, and complications of her pregnancy. The problem (bleeding) became severe enough that I was concerned for the life of the mother and infant, if she were allowed to give birth naturally (i.e. unsupervised). Within 24 hours, an expert team of five physicians was consulted and gathered at the zoo's veterinary hospital along with a scrub technician from Memorial Hospital, a senior medical student, and a Denver Zoo veterinarian and technician.

It was New Year's Eve and we were performing a caesarian section on Juju to save her and her infant. From previous ultrasounds we knew she was very close to term. Due to Juju's precarious status, we were prepared to give her a blood transfusion from the other female gorilla, Roxie. The surgery went so well that this added risk was not necessary. The only other documented case of a c-section on a gorilla in the United States was on a healthy mother at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1978.

The infant female was stressed and the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. With the physicians' help we resuscitated her until she was breathing 100% oxygen adequately on her own. Later that night I celebrated New Year's with a sigh of relief while the baby gorilla enjoyed a bottle of 5% dextrose. Tracey Anderson, our veterinary technician, and I moved into the zoo's hospital to give 24-hour care to the fragile 4-lb., 12-oz. newborn.

Once the infant was stable and nursing a bottle well, we offered her back to Juju in hopes that she would nurse effectively. Juju has never raised her own infants due to problems with letting them nurse. We were delighted when we observed nursing several times, but apparently it was not enough for the infant and she became very weak.

The decision was made to remove the infant to save her life, again. The infant was very cold and dehydrated and had lost nearly a pound. After treating her with intravenous fluids and antibiotics she was again nursing well--only to develop seizures later that night! An emergency blood test indicated possible infection with meningitis. Valium controlled her seizures while antibiotics fought the infection. After 24 hours the seizures did not recur.

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We hand-raised her and for eight months there were no further problems. But the story does not end there.

The next installment will give you an update on what happened next and how the veterinary and medical team came to her rescue again!

By Dr. Della Garell;©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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