Everything seems to be progressing well. Viet doesn't seem to be quite as careful with this baby - 2nd child syndrome?!! Gibbons carry their babies fairly low on their bellies and tuck up their legs as a bit extra support.
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The family group seem to very settled in their cosy lockaway. Everyone is asking me what sex it is. Its going to be fairly tricky to see as she carries it securely cocooned between her belly with her legs tucked up. Eventually someone will get an opportunistic view!
Finally, first thing Wednesday morning Andrew (Keeper) found Viet, our 12 year old White Cheeked Gibbon, had given birth overnight. Unlike last time (her first birth – unfortunately unsuccessful) when there had been no physical signs at all, this time, she has been ENORMOUS for what seems like months!
To give her a chance to recover and to bond with baby the family will be kept in their off limits lockaway for a week. This will also give us a good opportunity to closely monitor the baby, observe suckling and basically ensure everything is progressing as it should.
Life and death are part of the natural fabric of life in the wild and in zoos. Unfortunately Viet’s baby has died. Everyone is very sad, understandably, as all seemed to be going so well with them. The baby was looking very strong and suckling, and Viet was doing such a wonderful job of mothering her.
White Cheeked Gibbons are a very sensitive species and known to be quite difficult to breed in captivity. Other zoos who have bred them have commented that they are usually not good first time mothers, so we were very surprised that Viet was doing so well. Mothering is such a complex mix of natural and learned behaviours and it is often difficult for inexperienced primates to get everything right at the same time.
In our disappointment we must remember that although this is sad for everyone involved, it has not been a wasted exercise for Viet or keepers.
We have learned that Viet can conceive (this was in question prior to this birth), that she has great mothering instincts and skills, and that her partner Remus is protective and supportive. Viet will have learned a lot from this short time (one week) with her baby, this will stand her in good stead for her next foray into motherhood.
We always allow primates grieving time with their dead young, so we did not take the baby from Viet until she had finished carrying it around and left it for keepers to recover. This is really important and allows a mother time to come to terms with their loss and make sense of the situation. The babies are then taken to the Animal Health Centre for examination and post mortem.
A post mortem has been carried out, as with any death in the zoo, but as yet we do not know what the cause of death was. We are still waiting for some results from the laboratory, however there is nothing obvious to point to any cause of death.
We are sad but must look at the positives drawn from the experience for Viet and Remus, and hope for future breeding successes for them. Viet will most probably begin cycling again in the next month or so and will hopefully conceive again in the not too distant future.
Assistant Curator, Primates