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Gibbon's surprise birth causes stir, search for father at Nagasaki Pref. zoo

Momo, the lar gibbon who caused a commotion with her unexpected pregnancy, is seen at Mori Kirara in the Kujukushima Zoo & Botanical Garden in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, on March 9, 2021. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Watanuki)

SASEBO, Nagasaki -- A female lar gibbon with no means to get pregnant at a zoo in this southwest Japan city has caused a stir among handlers and other staff by unexpectedly giving birth to a baby.

    The female gibbon in question at Mori Kirara in the Kujukushima Zoo & Botanical Garden resides alone in her enclosure, and doesn't live in conditions that enable direct contact with males. The zoo will attempt to solve the mystery using DNA testing.

    Momo, a 10-year-old lar gibbon, was found by zoo staff on the morning of Feb. 10 to have given birth to a baby ape. The unexpected development confused staff; in the around seven-month period she appears to have been pregnant, Momo's belly was not bigger, and there were no changes in her appearance. Reportedly no employees or others had realized she was carrying a baby.

    For about five or six years, Momo has lived in her enclosure alone, and she lives next to cages where other lar gibbons, siamang gibbons and other animals are kept. Between their enclosures are wire-mesh fences and boards.

    But how did she get pregnant? The zoo has held numerous meetings to discuss this very issue, but they say the cause remains a mystery. One official speculated, "It's very likely that she mated with a male in a neighboring cage through some kind of gap."

    The zoo says it intends to ascertain the father's identity through DNA analysis of the baby's hair or blood after it has been weaned, and put up metal boards at the borders of the enclosures. As a zoo for which planned reproduction is one of its principles, the emergence of an unforeseen pregnancy and birth is unacceptable. The facility said it was "working to prevent a reoccurrence."

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Watanuki, Sasebo Bureau)

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