Click to read: Healthy baby orangutan born following emergency caesarean

Healthy baby orangutan born following emergency caesarean

A team of specialists from Jersey’s General Hospital teamed up with the veterinary team at Jersey Zoo yesterday afternoon, to perform an emergency caesarean section on pregnant Sumatran orangutan, Gina.  

The result was the successful delivery of a healthy male baby, who has been named “Jaya”, meaning a famous or important person in the local dialect of Sumatra where the last wild Sumatran orangutans are to be found.  Weighing in at a very healthy 1.86kg, Jaya will be introduced to his mother as soon as she has recovered fully from the anaesthetic.

Head of Mammals Richard Johnstone-Scott became worried about Gina, who was due to give birth within the next three weeks, yesterday morning, and called Durrell Wildlife’s vet, Javier Lopez, to have a look at her.  Javier immediately called Dr Neil MacLachlan, Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at Jersey’s General Hospital, who works closely with the Durrell Wildlife’s veterinary team on all great ape pregnancies.  Dr MacLachlan came up to the Zoo straight away, and advised that Gina needed to be darted and examined immediately. 

After being sedated, Gina was taken to the Zoo’s Veterinary Centre where she was scanned, and found to be in labour but with a dangerous complication where the placenta was blocking the birth canal.  She was losing amniotic fluid rapidly, and without an emergency caesarean, it was likely that both mother and baby would die.  A full surgical team was soon on hand, including the hospital’s consultant anaesthetist Gary Purcell-Jones, Durrell Wildlife’s vet Javier Lopez, veterinary nurse Sarah Hole, a scrub nurse and assistants, and the caesarean section was performed at around mid-day by Dr MacLachlan.  

It is only the second time that a caesarean section has been performed on a great ape at Jersey Zoo, the last time being in 1990 on a gorilla, and the procedure is very rare worldwide.  This is Gina’s sixth baby, and all her previous offspring have been born naturally following problem-free labours.  

Jaya spent his first night in an incubator, receiving regular feeds throughout the night from Durrell Wildlife’s Steve Pilcher, who has looked after Gina for the past four years.  He will be introduced to his mother as soon as she has recovered fully from the anaesthetic, hopefully on Saturday.

Head of Mammals at Durrell Wildlife, Richard Johnstone-Scott, commented:  “It’s been a tense twenty-four hours, but thankfully everything has gone as well as we could have hoped for, and we are all absolutely delighted with the new arrival.  With a species as endangered as the Sumatran orangutan, every new baby born is an important boost to the captive breeding population. The priority now is to get the baby back with his mother as soon as possible.  Gina is a very experienced mum, and has always shown very strong maternal instincts in the past.  It will be a tense moment when we reunite mother and baby, but we are very optimistic that she will accept Jaya fully, and that he will be brought up normally within the orangutan group here at Jersey Zoo, without any ill-effects from his unusual start in life.”

Durrell Wildlife’s vet, Javier Lopez, commented: “Obviously we were very worried when we noticed Gina having problems so close to the date she was due to give birth, as complications in orangutan pregnancies are very rare and so are often very serious.  The support we received from the team at the General Hospital has been tremendous, and over the years has been a key factor in the success we have had in breeding gorillas and orangutans.   We are delighted that we have been able to work so effectively together with them in this instance to bring about such a successful outcome ”.

The Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered, and only survives in a few isolated pockets of forest in northern Sumatra.  Logging and the resulting loss of habitat has driven the species to the very brink of extinction, and with an estimated 7000 remaining, some experts are predicting extinction in the wild for the species within five years.  Durrell Wildlife is supporting work in northern Sumatra to protect the remaining isolated populations of wild orangutans and their habitat.

Posted 14 May 2004

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