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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK
Doctor helps out at orang-utan birth
Experts were drafted in for the Caesarean section
Consultant gynaecologist Neil Maclachlan has clocked up a career first - delivering an orang-utan.

Because humans and apes are very similar anatomically Jersey Zoo asked the consultant, who works at nearby Jersey General Hospital, if he would help with the difficult birth.

And bouncing baby boy Jaya - meaning "important or famous" in Sumatran - was born weighing a healthy 4lbs (1.86kg)

We either had to operate or let her die
Mr Neil Maclachlan
The hospital and zoo have close links and in the past other doctors have set animals' broken legs, given second opinions on unusual cases and helped with blood tests and imaging.

But caesarean sections on great apes are very rare and this is only the second time that the procedure has been carried out in Jersey - the last time was 14 years ago.

Mr Maclachlan, a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician, said he had been delighted to help - the birth had been an exciting break from his routine human births.

"It is a really interesting part of our work," he said.

"The relationship we have with the zoo is that we do not interfere, but if the zoo requests our help we will be there to help them.

"We learn from the staff at the zoo and they learn from us."

Troubles unexpected

Mr Maclachlan said the birth had not been expected to be a problem because mum Gina, who is a very popular ape at the zoo, had already had five trouble-free pregnancies.

The mother was in distress
But as she tried to deliver Jaya, vet Javier Lopez noticed Gina was struggling and called for Mr Maclachlan to examine her more closely.

Mr Maclachlan said: "I noticed that she had a swelling in her vulva.

"They asked her to climb up onto her den and she hung there so that I could see her underneath. They got her to stay there by feeding her grapes.

"I was worried about her. I thought she might have an infection, but it was not an infection - it was an obstructive labour.

"In humans you would find this out by using a scanner, but with an ape you have to dart them with tranquilisers and put them to sleep.

"So Javier darted her and we put her on the zoo's operating table. I found she was placenta praevia (where the placenta blocks the birth canal) and I knew we either had to operate or let her die.

"So we did a section."

Expert help

Mr Maclachlan took two anaesthetists from the hospital with him to operate on Gina, who is in her 40s. While anaesthetist Chad Taylor worked on Jaya, his colleague Gari Purcell-Jones cared for Gina.

Sumatran orangs
The Sumatran orang-utan is critically endangered
It only survives in a few isolated areas of forest in northern Sumatra
Logging has played a key role in the loss of its natural habitat
Only about 7,000 of this species survive and some experts are predicting that they will become extinct in the wild within just five years.
But because Gina had to be so heavily anesthetised Jaya did not breathe properly for some time.

"They put Jaya in a space blanket and when he started to cry everyone was very emotional."

Following Jaya's birth the hospital team helped a macaque, a smaller ape, who had a retained placenta, which needed removing.

Mr Lopez said that although he and his staff were perfectly capable of doing caesarean sections on the animals, they did not do them often and they preferred to get help from specialists.

And he said that because Jersey is such a little and friendly island that it had been easy for the hospital and the zoo to form good and lasting bonds.

"We have a good relationship with the hospital and the local vets because being an island you can very quickly reach people you need to help and over the years we have asked for a number of second opinions.

"It was brilliant of Neil to come and help and the other doctors. He reacted quickly to the developing problem.

"The hospital staff have always been brilliantly supportive of us.

"We do C-sections at the zoo ourselves as well, but you want to give your animals the best chance you can and if you can get someone to operate on them who does this every day then that is what you do."

Happy ending

Mr Lopez said that mum and baby ape were now doing fine.

"She is the perfect mother and she has had lots of experience," he said.

Baby Jaya
Baby Jaya is now doing well
"After she had first had the operation she looked at the baby as if to say that is nice, but do take it away and then when the pain went she grabbed him and suckled him she has a very strong maternal instinct.

"Just two or three days after the operation she was up and about."

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (which helps manage endangered species at the zoo) said that it had been a tense time, but said the outcome had been fantastic, not only for the zoo, but for the species which is critically endangered in the wild.

Head of Mammals Richard Johnstone Scott said: "With a species as endangered as the Sumatran orang-utan, every new baby born is an important boost to the captive breeding population."

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