Nadiri, 19, has a birth plan. She will be placed on birth watch Thursday and her Woodland Park Zoo handlers will start a 24-hour vigil to make sure she doesn’t go into labor alone.
In some ways, Nadiri is like many other first-time mothers in Seattle.
She is a little bit on the older side because she didn’t quite click with any of the males she met when she was younger.
When she finally did meet the right guy earlier this year — an older fellow who is now out of the picture — she was able to conceive and her pregnancy has been completely healthy and normal: She had morning sickness in the first trimester, intense fruit cravings in the second and now in her third trimester, has trouble finding a comfortable sitting or sleeping position.
She’s even been taking classes aimed at teaching her how to bond, nurse and care for her baby.
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However, unlike other mothers-to-be whose complicated lives sometimes feel like a zoo, Nadiri actually lives in one.
On Thursday, the 19-year-old western lowland gorilla will be placed on birth watch, and her handlers, other zoo employees and volunteers will start a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week vigil to make sure she doesn’t go into labor and give birth alone.
The arrival of her baby, due around Nov. 19, will be the zoo’s first gorilla birth in more than eight years, said mammal curator Martin Ramirez.
The gender of the baby is not known, he said.
“We’ll be happy with whatever she has, as long as it’s healthy,” he said on Tuesday, as he cradled a baby-sized burlap “doll” similar to one used to teach Nadiri parenting skills.
“The first 72-hours are critical,” he said. “What we’re hoping is that Nadiri delivers a healthy offspring and that she picks it up and holds it immediately and doesn’t put it down.”
If she neglects or rejects the infant, the zoo has backup plans it is prepared to implement.
According to Ramirez, gorillas, like humans, learn parenting and other life skills from being parented or from watching others do it.
But Nadiri was partially hand-raised by humans after she was rejected by her mother, Jumoke, after a traumatic delivery at Woodland Park Zoo.
“To compound matters, Nadiri’s father, Congo, passed away two weeks after the birth of his first viable offspring. His death defeated any hope of further introductions between Jumoke and her baby,” the zoo said in a statement released last month. “Without a dominant male, Congo’s group was no longer a stable environment for the baby.”
The sad turn of events for Nadiri, who was essentially orphaned, captured the hearts of the community and garnered mass media attention.
Zoo staff and volunteers provided round-the-clock care and Nadiri was eventually introduced to a surrogate family of gorillas at the zoo.
Zoo spokeswoman Gigi Allianic said that because Nadiri is a “little bit anxious” and inexperienced, her keepers have been working overtime to prepare her for the newborn.
The father of the baby, 36-year-old Vip, who lives in another family group at the zoo, has already sired six other offspring and is not expected to be a part of the baby’s day-to-day life. Woodland Park Zoo has 11 gorillas living in three separate family groups, each with one dominant male. The three groups rotate through the zoo’s two tropical rainforest displays.
Leonel, who is the dominant male in Nidiri’s group, was handraised by humans and because he did not have a chance to watch other gorillas mating he never learned how to mate himself, Ramirez said.
Even showing him videos of gorillas mating did not work, he said.
Instead, he said, the zoo hopes that Leonel and the other gorilla in Nadiri’s family group — her half-sister Akenji — will become like an aunt and uncle to the new baby.
The most recent gorilla birth at Woodland Park Zoo was Uzumma, born to Amanda in 2007. Uzumma will turn 8 years old on Oct. 20.
If Nadiri rejects her baby or is unable to provide proper maternal care, the zoo said it will explore options such as partial hand-rearing or identifying a surrogate mother gorilla at another zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Woodland Park Zoo — which went through a bruising fight earlier this year over the fate of elephants Chai and Bamboo — knows that all zoos and zoo breeding programs are subject to public criticism. But Allianic says the birth of Nadiri’s baby will provide a valuable and underrepresented genetic line to the gorilla Species Survival Plan population, particularly as her father, Congo, has no other known offspring in the population.
“The animals here are such compelling ambassadors for the critically endangered gorillas in Africa threatened with extinction,” said Allianic. “Seeing gorillas and other animals in zoos help people make a personal, emotional connection and take action to help ensure these animals remain into the future. The birth will be a symbol of hope that it’s not too late to save these precious animals.”
She said Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the western lowland gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Study, which researches the social organization and behaviors of more than 450 lowland gorillas living in the Republic of Congo. That data provides the groundwork for successful conservation strategies, Allianic said.
Ramirez said that Nadiri had been “doing a great job” of taking care of her burlap “doll,” but the true test would come shortly.
“We’ll know soon if it’s a true success story,” he said. “We want her to hold that baby and let it grow up knowing it’s a gorilla.”