July 11, 2013 at 9:21 AM ET
North Carolina Zoo officials say the mother of a newborn western lowland gorilla may have rolled over her infant while she was asleep, killing the baby just days after his dramatic birth.
Zookeepers discovered the infant during a Tuesday night check. The baby was found in the arms of his mother, Acacia.
"Early indications are that it was most likely accidental. Primate mothers often lose their first baby due to inexperience or just accidentally. But they usually go on to successful births in the future,” Adrian Fowler, the zoo’s curator of mammals, said in a statement on the facility’s website.
"The staff believes Acacia may have just rolled over onto her newborn while sleeping," he said. "Gorillas face exactly the same risks during the early neonatal period as humans and, even in that field, the causes of early infant death often remain unknown."
Officials called the discovery one of the saddest events in the zoo’s history.
Acacia delivered the baby on Sunday by cesarean section after a difficult 24-hour labor. The baby and mother were briefly separated after the birth to let veterinarians stabilize the infant and allow the mother to recover from sedation.
“We conducted a complete exam on Tuesday morning and nothing seemed abnormal,” said Dr. Mike Loomis, the zoo’s chief veterinarian. “The baby was taking the bottle feedings well and was not dehydrated. And we felt the mother had recovered enough to take care of him.”
The baby was the third gorilla born at the zoo since last August. Western lowland gorillas are classified as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union.