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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is turning humans into temporary gorilla moms.
Over the next several months, the Zoo will use human surrogates to mimic gorilla behavior with the ultimate goal to get a 4-week-old gorilla baby in the hands of a gorilla surrogate.
These human surrogates will feed the gorilla. They will hold the baby to their chest and eventually carry her on their back. They will climb on things and even knuckle-walk like a gorilla. They will wear all black scrubs during their shifts and cover themselves with a furry vest – handmade by a Cincinnati Zoo volunteer. They will also vocalize like a gorilla and a host of other skills that most people never even consider.
"This will certainly be a labor of love," said Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo. "We will have a surrogacy team, made up of 7-10 staff members, who will be hand-rearing the infant 24/7 until we can safely introduce her to a gorilla surrogate mom. This is such a huge responsibility and privilege and we are honored to be doing our part."
Using human surrogates as gorilla moms is a first for the second oldest Zoo in the nation. Cincinnati Zoo gorillas have been some of the most prolific gorillas in captivity, making the Zoo one of the top breeders of this endangered species in the world with 48 births to-date.
On Jan. 29, the Gladys Porter Zoo (GPZ) in Brownsville, Texas, welcomed a 4.7 pound, female gorilla, which is now almost 7 pounds. After the birth, mother, 14 -year-old "Kiazi," didn't respond well and rejected the infant. This behavior, which occasionally happens in first-time mothers, resulted in keepers from the Gladys Porter Zoo stepping in to hand-rear the infant until they had a plan in place. Unfortunately, all of the viable surrogates there already had young gorillas, so they began to look elsewhere. The Cincinnati Zoo was determined to be the best home for the baby.
The surrogacy team will be with the infant around the clock, working 8-hour shifts. These shifts involve a lot more than just cuddling the adorable new addition. Surrogacy involves understanding primate behavior, vocalizations and mothering instincts.
"Whatever a gorilla mom would do with her baby is what we have to do with this baby," said Ron Evans, Primate Team Leader at the Cincinnati Zoo.
All of this takes place behind the scenes, in the "baby suite" at Gorilla World. This suite has been upgraded to feature 2-inch mesh that will assist keepers when they (eventually) bottle feed and cameras for around-the-clock monitoring. In addition, the suite will be outfitted with a mattress for Zoo staff to sit on during their long shifts, especially overnights.
If everything goes as planned, visitors could see the baby outside as early as this Spring.
The Cincinnati Zoo is taking name suggestions for the baby gorilla. You can leave your suggestions on the Zoo's Facebook page or tweet them @CincinnatiZoo using #BabyGorilla.