These past five weeks have been some of the most hectic and rewarding weeks that my fellow keepers and I have experienced on the job! Born via C-section and needing treatment for pneumonia and a collapsed lung, gorilla Imani’s baby girl had a bit of a rough start to life (see video below). Thanks to the dedicated team of people working around the clock, and her own fighting spirit, she eventually pulled through. Since being introduced to her mom and other gorilla troop members at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, life has been smooth sailing.
Imani has, so far, been the picture of an ideal mother. During the first couple of days of their introduction, Imani experimented with different ways of holding her new baby girl. While raising her “adopted” son Frank, he would often ride on Imani’s back. Gorilla moms usually carry their kids on their back until they reach about three months old. Imani quickly learned that this little newborn would much rather be held close to the chest and would demonstrate the strength of her rehabilitated lungs by crying loudly if Mom tried anything else! Look for Imani out on exhibit carrying the baby, usually in her right arm, while foraging. Having an infant in her arms has not slowed Imani down or diminished her appetite for kale, romaine, sunflower seeds, a tasty piece of acacia browse, you name it!
After Mom has had her fill, one of Imani’s favorite spots to sit down and nurse her baby is the heated pad in the giant root ball at the base of the fallen tree-climbing structure. You can often see Imani resting here at different times throughout the day, baby cradled in her arms. Watch for Imani holding the baby’s hand in her own or grooming her while she nurses. Frank, now 5½ years old, is usually not too far away, and the other gorillas frequently take turns passing by for a peek as they carry on with their own activities.
At the end of the day, the troop returns to the bedroom area for the night. After dinner, Imani usually makes a nest of hay large enough for her, her baby, and five-year-old big brother Frank to sleep together. Come to the Safari Park and watch with us as this little girl grows up!
Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.