A tiny primate baby has been delivered by Caesarean at Paignton Zoo in Devon. The king colobus monkey and her mother are now being cared for around-the-clock by zoo keepers.

The procedure was performed by Paignton Zoo vet Jo Reynard: “Ivy had reached her due date but been off her food and inactive for two days. As she was not improving with treatment, we decided to do a check-up to find out what was going on.

“A quick x-ray confirmed that the baby’s head was engaged in the pelvis ready to come out. As Ivy has given birth successfully before, initially we gave her some fluids and pain relief and returned her to the group, hoping she would give birth by herself.

“Later that evening we became concerned - her health was deteriorating and with no signs of normal labour progressing, we decided to do a Caesarean section to save Ivy’s life and that of the baby.”

Ghislaine Sayers, Head of Veterinary Services at Paignton Zoo, explained: “We have only done three C-sections here in the last 16 years. Jo, our surgeon on this occasion, has performed them on dogs, cats, cows and sheep before - but never a primate. It’s not so common in zoos - most zoo animals manage to give birth by themselves. Introducing a new life into the world is always special.”

Staff gathered on a warm Wednesday evening after the crowds of visitors had left. Paignton Zoo vet nurse Kelly Elford took care of the anaesthetic on Ivy, assisted by veterinary intern Siobhan Cox. Ghislaine and Senior Head Keeper of Mammals Matt Webb were on hand to care for the baby once it was born. Mammal keepers Lewis Rowden and Nadia Gould were with Ivy throughout the day. It was a team effort.

Jo: “The hardest bit in these circumstances is knowing when to intervene and when to leave the mum alone to give birth naturally. It is an exciting thing to be involved in, but the overriding feeling is concern for the mother and this can make you a bit apprehensive. You want to do the best job you can for her.”

From the start to the point at which Ivy had fully recovered from the anaesthetic was approximately six hours, with the actual surgery taking about 40 minutes. The baby was born after about 20 minutes; the rest of the time was spent carefully sewing Ivy up and giving her fluids and pain relief to make sure she came round as comfortably as possible.

Jo again: “We did an ultrasound and found that the baby was still alive but also that Ivy would not give birth naturally, so it became very important to get the baby out quickly to save both their lives. Once the surgery was underway, it took so much focus that there was no room for nerves. As soon as we knew Ivy was out of danger and the baby was breathing and calling we were all elated. I am sure it is a day everyone involved will remember!”

Caesareans are fairly routine for a vet but delicate and complex procedures. “The surgery was very similar to a cat or a dog. The main difference is the aftercare, as it is very hard to rest a monkey that wants to jump around! We may feel Ivy should rest after such a major surgery, but she seems to have other ideas - keeping her rested is proving a challenge!”

Ghislaine: “The skin sutures need to be hidden to prevent primate fingers from picking at them and pulling them out!”

It’s hoped that the youngster will be accepted into the group when she is more mobile, but for the time being she’s dependent on a team of zoo keeper foster parents – which has meant some long days – and nights.

Craig Gilchrist, Head Keeper of Mammals, explained: “We’ve been feeding her around the clock. At first it was every two hours, including through the night. Now it’s every three hours, switching to every four hours through the night.”

She weighed a healthy 567g at birth and was very strong. For the time being she is living in a mobile incubator unit – in which keepers take her home at night - and feeding on lactose-free SMA powdered baby milk formula through a syringe until she is able to suckle on a bottle. Six keepers are sharing the extra workload.”

Paignton Zoo’s group of king colobus monkeys is made up of two males – Finn and Divo - and two females - Ivy and Lola. The species is listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable.

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