The Early Days


As I’m sure you’ve heard the exciting news by now, Honi- our 21-year-old western lowland gorilla- is pregnant! As Honi’s primary keeper I thought you might be interested in some of the inside scoop regarding the early days of her pregnancy!

Everyone wants to know who the dad is (in the animal world, we use the term 'sire' to refer to the dad, and 'dam' to refer to the mom). Motuba arrived at the Philadelphia Zoo on Species Survival Plan breeding recommendations with our two females, Honi and Kira, in February 2014. Since Honi was already an experienced mom and dominant to Kira, we decided that it would be appropriate to breed Honi first. In October, 2015 we took her off of birth control and in January 2016 we confirmed that Honi was indeed pregnant!  
Once we took Honi off birth control, we tracked her cycles very carefully, viewed active breeding behavior and eventually we noticed a difference in her morning behavior. We did a pregnancy test- an over the counter test typically used by humans- and it came back negative.

A coupIe of weeks later, however, I noticed that Honi started showing signs of what I believed to be symptoms of early pregnancy. One day in particular, it took her quite some time to get out of “bed.” I’m used to all of the gorillas coming right over to me to say good morning every day. Whenever one of them doesn’t, it makes me take an extra look at what might be going on. On this same day, she also chose not to shift onto exhibit with Motuba and Kira. This was highly unusual for her, as she usually leads the group up each day. Once she finally did shift onto exhibit, I noticed that she wasn’t eating. After several minutes, she eventually did start to eat peas (she wouldn’t touch anything else, just peas- and ate them quite voraciously at that!)  I called the vets and said, “Honi is either pregnant or something is wrong.” The next day we ran a pregnancy test and got a faint but positive result. Over the next few weeks we performed multiple pregnancy tests to confirm that she was indeed pregnant.

How does one perform a pregnancy test on a gorilla, you might ask? Why, the same way that a human does of course! On days that we wanted to test, we would collect urine from Honi and send it to the lab in our hospital. In addition to the pregnancy tests we have also been able to perform ultrasound imaging as well. Since we have been planning to breed our gorillas, we’ve been training them to allow us to perform voluntary abdominal ultrasounds. Just like with humans. It took several weeks until we were able to see the fetus on ultrasound, but at about 13 weeks, we were able to confirm her pregnancy visually! As her pregnancy progresses, we’ll be sure to share some of these images with all of you.
Honi had a bit of a rough first trimester. As I mentioned, she definitely showed some signs of morning sickness. Eating was not on her list of morning activities for several weeks, and she continued to have some pretty lazy mornings. She also had some strong preferences for some food items over others, and was picky about the type of prenatal vitamins she would take. We ended up finding a liquid prenatal vitamin that she takes readily in some water or dilute juice. Just as her second trimester began, however, Honi’s behavior returned to normal, and she started eating much better again! 

Be sure to check back regularly, as I will be blogging about Honi’s pregnancy throughout!! Until next time!

By Kristen Farley-Rambo, Primary Gorilla Keeper