The San Francisco Zoo’s baby gorilla, which became well-known in the Bay Area after its natural mother abandoned it, may have found a new mother, zoo officials said Friday.
The infant gorilla "is growing and strong and at one month is a thriving eight pounds," zoo officials said.
The Zoo’s primate team, veterinarian staff and a hand-rearing support team from the Columbus Zoo, ventured down a new path for the gorilla infant, when his mother Monifa, showed no interest in raising her newborn baby after it was born on Dec. 8, 2008.
Currently, the infant’s caretakers are living in a temporary nursery that’s been set-up inside the Zoo’s Gorilla House. The team is concentrating to a large extent on training one of the Zoo’s female gorillas, Bawang, to be the mother.
Bawang is a proven mother, and is showing behavior that indicates she wants to mother the boy.
She is intently watching, listening and twigging, "a positive expression of interest and also a technique used to acquire something they want, such as food or objects," zoo officials said.
Caretakers said they are also working closely with Bawan through a protective enclosure, presenting the infant to her up-close, which allows her to touch, smell, lick and kiss her potential new baby boy.
Officials said they would also work to desensitize Bawang with a bottle. She will need to clearly understand that the bottle is for the infant -- not her, according to zoo officials.
“Teaching Bawang to be a surrogate mom is no easy task and it’s going to take a lot of time and patience,” said Corinne MacDonald, curator of primates at the San Francisco Zoo. “She is an incredibly intelligent gorilla and all of us are committed to bringing these two together and ensuring this infant becomes a beloved member of the troop.”
Over the next several months, the team will continue to work on teaching Bawang a variety of behaviors, before they bring the two together formally for their first one-on-one bonding.
The infant gorilla will need to be mobile and Bawang will need to recognize that she needs to bring him back to keepers, so he can continue to be bottle fed. It will be a long process that could take more than five months.
It is still undetermined when he will receive a name. Zoo officials said, "Discussions are in progress and the Zoo hopes to announce something on this front soon."