The Woodland Park Zoo’s 2 1/2-month-old gorilla, Kitoko, was hospitalized over the weekend after suffering injuries in a family conflict that grew violent Saturday, zoo staff said in a news release Sunday.
In the altercation among the gorilla’s six-member family group, said Dr. Darin Collins, director of animal health at Woodland Park Zoo, Kitoko “sustained serious injuries to the head including a laceration from a bite wound, resulting in a bone fracture to the skull.”
Zoo staff took him to an on-site veterinary hospital, where he is recovering after surgery. “What could have been a life-threatening injury to his head appears to be a serious wound that can heal if no complications from infection result,” Collins said.
Pediatric neurosurgery consultants brought in from Seattle Children’s Hospital helped evaluate Kitoko’s condition and close his wound, according to the news release. To treat him, zoo staff temporarily separated Kitoko from his mother, Uzumma.
While not present for the gorilla family’s scuffle, zoo staff said surveillance camera footage showed it unfolded at 7:50 a.m., with Kitoko’s wound evident at 8 a.m. They also have a theory about what led to Kitoko’s injury: “Gorillas tend to be gentle giants but conflicts among family members do occur, in zoos and in nature. We suspect one of the adult females may have inadvertently bitten the baby while engaged in a skirmish with Uzumma,” said the zoo’s mammal curator, Martin Ramirez.
Kitoko is under 24-hour care and receiving intravenous pain medication and antibiotics to reduce his risk of infection while he recovers. Zoo staff said they hoped to reunite him with his mother as soon as they could. The two will be temporarily kept away from the rest of their gorilla family group, in the company of just one other adult gorilla, which zoo staff said would likely be Kwame, the baby gorilla’s father.
“We are cautiously optimistic for a full recovery and hope to return Kitoko to his mom today,” Collins said Sunday. “Over the next two weeks, we will maintain a close assessment for any signs of infection or bleeding resulting in neurological deficits.”
The zoo has shared frequent updates about Uzumma and Kitoko since its closure in compliance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order after the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “Uzumma’s family spends most days in the public outdoor habitat and Kitoko has been thriving and reaching developmental milestones,” said Ramirez.