(CINCINNATI) — Workers at the Cincinnati Zoo have taken on a new role: surrogate mommy.
An infant gorilla was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, on Jan. 29. Her mother rejected her. She was flown to Cincinnati, where two gorilla mothers were available as surrogates.
But before Gladys can be left in their care, a cast of zookeepers will have to step in and teach Gladys how to be a gorilla.
“Gorillas are not a lot different than people in that they have their own language and rules of etiquette,” Ron Evans, primate team leader for the Cincinnati Zoo, told ABC News. “They have to start learning these rules from the day they are born.”
This kind of surrogacy is practiced with several species of apes, including chimpanzees and orangutans.
A rotation of three are already wearing black hair vests, grunting, grooming and walking on their knuckles around her. Once Gladys is strong enough, they’ll don black hair vests and carry her around, just as a biological mother would do.
Gorillas are carried by their mothers for their first 18 months, and only weaned at about three years.
“There are good moms and bad moms, just like humans,” said Ron Magill of the Miami Metro Zoo. “Sometimes new moms will reject their babies.”
Now the baby gorilla is being raised by six human surrogates who will tend to her around the clock.
They don’t want any one surrogate to get too close, because that could create attachment issues once Gladys is sent to live with her gorilla surrogates.
The workers give her daily checkups and participate in activities such as Tummy Time to strengthen her neck muscles, and practice gripping.
The interaction is intended to prepare Gladys for her new ride — on the back of an adoptive gorilla mother at the zoo — as well as prepare her to join the rest of the troop.
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