At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday (November 15), Mahale, a chimpanzee residing at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, went into labor. Zoo personnel excitedly prepared for the newest resident but soon noticed something was wrong. Mahale was struggling with her labor, putting both her and her baby in danger.
With no other options, zoo veterinarians, along with the help of OBGYNs Whisler and Chibry from College Hill Obstetrics and Gynecology, put Mahale under anesthesia and performed a C-section. At 1 p.m., baby Kucheza, meaning “play” in Swahili, was born. However, Mahale’s difficult birthing experience wasn’t over yet.
The complications during the mother chimpanzee’s labor had put enough stress on baby Kucheza that he required extra oxygen and medical care, forcing staff to separate him from Mahale. Likely assuming that she had lost the baby, Mahale recovered alone for two terrible days.
Finally, Thursday arrived and the baby chimpanzee was strong enough to be reunited with his mother. After receiving the all-clear from the zoo’s medical team, staff placed Kucheza, wrapped in a little blue blanket, in Mahale’s enclosure before welcoming the mother back inside from a morning spent outdoors.
At first, the mother chimpanzee didn’t realize her baby was in her bed. She finally laid eyes on him, however, staring in disbelief until Kucheza’s tiny hand reached out from the folds of the blanket, seeking his mother’s attention.
Without wasting another second, Mahale snatched her baby from the bed, clutching him against her chest while whimpering with joy and relief. “Good job, Mahale!” a zoo employee declared, audibly holding back tears. “What a good girl!”
The zoo then shared the now-viral video online, commenting, “Excuse us while we continue drowning in happy tears.”
Zoo Employees, OBGYN Doctors Celebrate Birth of Baby Chimpanzee
For Sedgwick County Zookeepers, Kucheza’s birth was a massive win – not just for the zoo but for the chimpanzee population as a whole. Dr. Heather Arens, the director of animal health at the zoo, explained that animal births are often more challenging than humans, as there’s no way to monitor contractions.
While difficult, the baby chimpanzee’s birth and eventual reunion with his mother was an undeniably positive outcome. “As a mother and a human, your heart sinks and it is the most incredible thing to witness,” Arens told KWCH.
For Drs Whisler and Chibry, both human OBGYNs, the delivery of baby Kucheza was somewhat out of the realm of their usual duties. Nevertheless, it was a magical experience neither doctor will ever forget. “We’ve done exams under anesthesia as well,” Dr. Whisler explained. “So, it’s a pretty great little side gig that we get to do.”
The pair also helped a mother orangutan give birth to baby Lily via C-section back in 2018. “Just very heartwarming,” added Dr. Chibry. “One of the most exciting parts of the whole process was to see that reuniting.”
Dr. Arens, along with the entire Sedgwick County Zoo staff, is immensely grateful for the help of the human medical doctors in the safe delivery of the baby chimpanzee. “The teamwork and the collaboration with human medical doctors and the collaboration with the community, I think that is something that not every zoo has,” she said. “[We’re] so fortunate to be a part of it here in Wichita.”