Rare Javan Gibbon Birth at Greensboro Science Center

This article was written by Zoo Curator, Jessica Hoffman, for WubbaNub.
The Greensboro Science Center in North Carolina is pleased to announce our first birth of the rare Javan gibbon, Hylobates moloch, born on the morning of April 29th, 2013.  Only 2 AZA facilities and 1 CAZA facility currently exhibit a total of 8 Javan gibbons around North America.  The Gibbon Conservation Center (GCC) in California, a private non-profit, also houses a small group.   The parents are a newly bonded pair who just arrived to the Science Center a little over a year ago.  The father, Leon, is a 9 year old male on breeding loan from the GCC.  The 10 year old mother Isabella, also arrived to us from GCC but is owned by Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Canada.  Javan gibbons are considered to be one of the world’s most endangered primates.  Current population numbers are at less than 2000 but this in an improvement over numbers from the 80’s when the species was considered critically endangered.  The species inhabits deeply forested tracts of land, solely on the island of Java.  Primary threats include habitat loss and poaching for the illegal pet trade.  For the Science Center, they have been one of our most popular and loved species.  “Building a superior exhibit for active participation in a gibbon SSP program was one of our institution’s first collection plan mandates during the design of Animal Discovery back in 2006. It is gratifying to finally see our vision turn into such a significant birth for such an imperiled species” says Glenn Dobrogosz, Director of the Greensboro Science Center.  Exhibiting this new pair also helped to kick off our first ever International Gibbon Conference where gibbon experts from around the world came to share ideas and discuss new initiatives.  This networking became key in offering support to us through the pregnancy and birth.

Animal care staff had been monitoring Bella’s pregnancy since November when she first started showing signs.  However, an exact due date was questionable.  Attempts to ultrasound the female were tried but were unsuccessful.  Since the parents were new and had never bred before, there was concern about how this first pregnancy might go.  Often times, first time parents may abandon or reject their offspring and the Science Center was prepared for this scenario. As feared, the male infant was born early in the morning but was found, by primary keeper Amanda Bissert, cold and unresponsive on the ground.  “He was not moving and it was hard to see if he was breathing” says Bissert.  Fortunately, the infant was still alive and supportive care by keeper and veterinary staff was immediately started.  “It took a minute to process everything, but when I saw that he was moving, the adrenaline kicked in.  The first thing I said was ‘He’s alive!'”  After approximately 30 hours, the infant was strong enough that a reintroduction to the mother was attempted.  At this time, the mother did accept the infant and immediately showed very positive signs of motherhood, cradling the infant, grooming him, and vocalizing.  However, after an additional 24 hours of observation, no nursing was ever observed and the infant appeared severely weakened again.  At this time, the decision was made to immobilize the mother and again offer supportive care to the baby.  While under anesthesia, the baby was placed on the mother to nurse but it was evident that there was very minimal milk production.  To not cause further risk to mother or baby, the decision was made to hand- rear the infant from this point forward.

Animal care staff has been working around the clock holding, feeding, cleaning, and exercising the now named baby Duke.  Additional volunteer support has been utilized through our local Cone Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit who assist with holding Duke during the day and have donated the majority of the supplies needed for Duke’s care.  We definitely could not have done this alone and we thank them immensely for their support.  Duke has proved to be a very happy, healthy baby who is eating and growing well.  Daily interactions also take place between Duke and his parents about four times per day.  His mother especially has continued to show a very strong interest in him and has the ability to touch him, smell him, and lick him through protected contact.  It is our hope that once Duke is weaned on to solid foods, at about 4 mos, full introductions back to his family group will begin.  In the meantime, Duke can be viewed by visitors daily through glass viewing at our zoo hospital.

Greensboro Science Center is working with a wide variety of nurses, related staff, and volunteers from the Women’s Hospital at Cone Health, where they have a neonatal intensive care unit. At this hospital, volunteers are utilized regularly to sit and hold premature babies who need to stay at the hospital.  Just like a human baby, a primate baby needs constant care-even more so because they cannot be put down. They must be held at all times, just like their mothers would do. You can imagine the staff time that this would take!

What makes him very different from a human baby, though, is that Duke needs to have constant motion and must be clinging at all times. Members of the animal care staff have been working around the clock holding, feeding, cleaning, and exercising him. Greensboro Science Center is able to fill almost all of the workday with volunteers. And in the evening, one of the two keepers or Jessica H. (Zoo Curator) takes baby Duke home for overnight care.

The volunteers had to think outside of the box in many ways. To help Duke feel as if he was with his real mother, volunteers wear furry “vest.”  This vest simulates the mother’s chest and allows baby Duke to cling to the volunteers. A nurse named Melissa W. first showed the Zoo Curator a photo of the WubbaNub Monkey. Everyone loved it!  A few days later, the WubbaNub arrived for Duke. Duke is on a pretty regular feeding schedule – this is where the WubbaNub comes in very handy.  Volunteers explain how Duke can get very fussy between feedings. When it is too early for a feeding, they use the WubbaNub to calm him until his next feeding time.  The caretakers especially like the WubbaNub because it allows Duke to grasp it easier.  Many other primate stuffed animals are used to help Duke with grasping and socializing, so the WubbaNub Monkey is a DOUBLE BONUS!

It is the Zoo Curator’s hope that they won’t be doing this for too much longer as he continues to grow so quickly. Interactions take place between Duke and his parents about four times per day. His mother has continued to show a very strong interest in him and has the ability to touch him, smell him, and lick him through protected contact. If all else goes well, and Duke stays strong and healthy, they hope to reintroduce him to his family!


2 thoughts on “Rare Javan Gibbon Birth at Greensboro Science Center

  1. On behalf of the volunteers assisting with Duke’s care, I can say that we receive more from the experience than we are giving. To see him grow, get stronger and thrive is so life affirming. To see visitors come by the hospital window to catch a glimpse of Duke and see the wonder & compassion in their eyes… priceless.

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