WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The cuteness factor at the Sedgwick County Zoo is soaring after a special delivery of a baby chimpanzee this week.
Before the team of zookeepers could relax and celebrate the birth of Baby Kucheza, they had to overcome a few labor and delivery challenges.
The happiest place in Wichita right now might be the Sedgwick County Zoo.
“We’ve been preparing for the last eight to nine months for this day,” says Danielle Decker, Zoological Manager of the Koch Gorilla Forest & Orangutan & Chimpanzee Habitat.
The 28-year-old chimpanzee Mahale went into labor early Tuesday morning around 8 a.m. Everything was progressing normally until the keepers noticed something abnormal.
“She started to look tired. And her contractions started getting a little further apart, and she looked like she was going into distress,” says Dr. Heather Arens, Sedgwick County Zoo’s Director of Animal Health.
At that point, things became a little chaotic. Mahale was transferred from her habitat to the zoo’s veterinary hospital.
“You don’t want to intervene too soon. But also, if you wait too long, then it’s too late. And then you lose both animals. So it was very, it’s very stressful event,” says Dr. Arens.
The decision was made to call in a pair of OB-GYNs from College Hill Obstetrics and Gynecology, Doctors Laura Whisler and Janna Chibry, to assist the team and to perform a C-section.
“Always anxious moments, especially when you’re in that kind of critical moment with an animal. You know, even giving birth. Then on top of it, having to come and do surgery,” says Decker. “You’re very worried about your animals and making sure that everything goes well.”
The team of OB-GYNs and veterinarians delivered the baby boy at 12:48 p.m. However, the baby chimp wasn’t out of the woods.
“He was hypoxic. He wasn’t getting enough oxygen,” says Dr. Arens. “It got a little bit more intense for the baby because he was not oxygenating well, but mom and baby were both alive.”
Decker and members of her staff stayed with the baby chimp Tuesday night into Wednesday.
“We took care of him and monitored him throughout the night, the first night, and he was doing better and better,” says Decker.
The baby boy was given the name Kucheza, which means “play” in Swahili. The next day, he was reunited with his mother.
“One of the keepers opened the door. Mahale came over, and she kind of just sat there. And so at that moment, it’s like, OK, what are you going to do, Mahale? And then, when the baby’s hand rose up and vocalized a little bit, she had an amazing reaction and swaddled that baby and took him under her care. And we were so ecstatic. We had tears in our eyes,” says Decker.
The zoo released the first photo of Baby Kucheza on Wednesday. The pic of the day-old baby chimp blew up on social media.
“Adorable. There are no words to describe. He’s a cute chimp,” says Dr. Arens.
“Yeah, he’s pretty special. Every little baby is special, but there’s a little extra special with him with everything that we had to go through,” says Decker.
“For me, it’s almost life-altering. I will remember this for the rest of my life,” adds Dr. Arens.
This is Mahale’s third birth and her first at the Sedgwick County Zoo. Kucheza is the first baby chimp to be born at the zoo in 12 years. Mahale and Kucheza will be separated from the rest of the family for a couple of weeks to give them time to bond.
Stay up to date with mom and baby boy by liking the Sedgwick County Zoo on Facebook.