Veterinarian, OBGYNs help deliver baby chimp at Sedgwick County Zoo

Lily Wu spoke with the two Wichita OBGYNs who helped make the birth of baby Kucheza possible.
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 9:05 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Mom Mahale and baby Kucheza, which means “play” in Swahili, were reunited at the Sedgwick County Zoo on Thursday. It was the first time the two had been together since his birth on Tuesday.

Mahele, a chimpanzee, had been in labor since 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday and gave birth by 1 pm. via c-section thanks in part to the help of Dr. Laura Whisler and Dr. Janna Chibry.

Zookeepers are calling Kucheza’s birth not only a win for mom and baby but for the Sedgwick County Zoo and the chimpanzee population.

Dr. Heather Arens, the director of animal health at the zoo, helped deliver the baby along with the human medical doctors. She said the difference between human and animal birthing is that doctors can’t perform hands-on monitoring of the animals to find out what their contractions are doing. Still, she said Kucheza’s delivery is the best outcome they could’ve asked for.

“As a mother and a human, your heart sinks and it is the most incredible thing to witness,” she said.

Chimpanzees have similar anatomies to humans. When the laboring process appeared difficult for Mahale, zookeepers sedated her and brought her into an operating room inside the zoo. Drs. Whisler and Chibry, both OBGYNs at College Hill Obstetrics and Gynecology, were then brought in to assist with the delivery.

“We’ve done exams under anesthesia as well. So, it’s a pretty great little side gig that we get to do,” said Dr. Whisler.

It’s not the first time these gynecologists have delivered an ape. Back in 2018, they helped deliver Lily, an orangutan baby, via c-section.

“Just very heartwarming, as one of the most exciting parts of the whole process was to see that reuniting,” said Dr. Chibry.

While mom continues to recuperate from her surgery, and baby bonds with mom, Mahale and Kucheza will be separated from the rest of the family for at least two weeks.

All involved in the delivery said they are celebrating the birth as a win.

“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. so fortunate to be a part of it here in Wichita,” said Dr. Arens.

The last successful birth of a chimpanzee at the Sedgwick County Zoo was in 2010 when mom Audra gave birth to baby Mabusu. Audra died last year at the age of 51. Her son, Mabusu is now 12 years old and doing well at the zoo.