Primate Keepers and staff, at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, have traded in their uniforms for faux-fur vests. The team is working ‘round the clock to care for a female baby Gorilla.
“Kamina” (Kuh-me-nuh), born August 16th at the Oklahoma City Zoo, was abandoned by her mother, “Ndjole”, immediately after her birth. Keepers at Cincinnati Zoo were previously successful in raising another Gorilla baby, “Gladys”, via surrogate human moms, and were eager to assist Kamina and provide the care she needed.
Ron Evans, head of primates, and Head Nursery Keeper, Dawn Strasser went to Oklahoma City to spend time with Kamina and her caregivers before bringing the baby back to Cincinnati. Kamina came to Cincinnati on a private jet, held by Evans and Strasser.
Non-stop holding is a vital part of the human surrogacy program. The bond between a mother Gorilla and her baby is intensely close, so infant Gorillas need to be held and loved. It needs to be part of their growth process even if their mother cannot provide it. The human surrogates wear a felt vest covering when holding Kamina to their chest. It resembles the chest of a Gorilla mother.
There is no known reason why mother Gorillas reject their babies. Ndjole had successfully connected with her first child. One theory is that it may have been a difficult birth that put Ndjole off to motherhood this time around.
Today, Kamina's outlook is positive. She will be raised by a team of 10-15 people at the Cincinnati Zoo who are responsible for her 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These people will also wear knee pads and mimic gorilla behavior. This will take place for the next three months, at least. During this time, Kamina will be shown to the other gorillas at the zoo. They will be able to observe each other, but for the time being, they will not be able to touch.