When Gigi was two weeks old, we had essentially eliminated all the obstacles of her socialization. Gigi was eating and gaining weight well, was bottle adapted, and could hold her body temperature outside of the incubator environment. She still relied upon a heat disk to keep her toasty when outside or in a cool room.
Gigi is gently placed in her transfer crate.
On December 4, 2008, Gigi made her debut. She was bundled up and placed into a transfer crate in the nursery. Her heat disk was added to keep her snug in the nursery cart that we use for transporting neonates around San Diego Zoo grounds. When Gigi arrived at the Wolf’s guenon exhibit, her family showed up right away at the gate; they were alert and curious. I sat by the wire mesh of the gate leading to the exhibit, removed Gigi from the crate, and placed her on my lap with the heat source close by.
For her part, Gigi was quiet and a bit unsure, holding on to her favorite stuffed animal and looking around. Immediately the family jockeyed for position, shoulder to shoulder so each could get the best view. Soon they began to reach through the wire mesh, pulling on the blankets and probing for Gigi. Mom Fifi was the most eager, gently touching Gigi’s head, lifting her tail, and inspecting her fur carefully. The reception, which lasted 45 minutes, was resoundingly positive. Mom never left my side while I sat with Gigi. This introduction continued for several successive days. As we observed the progressive positive interactions, we began to formulate a plan. Fifi was showing maternal interest in Gigi, and since Fifi was still nursing Gigi’s sister, Mimi, she still had milk. We decided to try a full reintroduction to the guenon group to see if Fifi would begin to carry and feed her youngest daughter.
On December 9, a full tactile introduction was attempted. Since the group was so attentive and gentle through the gate, we felt comfortable taking the reintroduction to the next step. So, instead of sitting by the gate as usual, guenon senior keeper Leticia Plasencia placed little Gigi in one of the animal bedrooms alone. We set Gigi up with a “safe home base.” She had her favorite stuffed surrogate tied to the wire mesh so the family couldn’t take it away. Gigi also had her nice, cozy heat source wrapped in a familiar blanket to provide warmth during the introduction. Leticia opened the door, allowing the whole group inside for full access. We were hoping that Fifi would pick up and carry her baby.
We were on hand when the family was allowed accesss into the bedroom area. That day the family never left Gigi and chose to hang out with her in the bedroom, but Fifi never did really pick her up. There were a few motions that looked like she may have tried, but the two never quite accomplished it. Instead, there were more of the same enthusiastic investigations by all members of the guenon family. Big sister Mimi was a guenon of interest at first. We were a bit worried that Mimi’s earlier behavior with her little sister would carry over, especially if Fifi decided to pay more attention to this new baby. Although Fifi did make a few rough grabs, she was largely only curious about the new arrival.
As it turned out, we didn’t get everything we were hoping for that day. When we removed Gigi to return her to the nursery, we had not witnessed a major event, but we had launched a new and important process. Now that we knew Gigi was safe with the family, we could make our visits much more significant by letting Gigi spend part of every day outside the care of humans, surrounded by her guenon family. Gigi’s introduction made giant leap forward.
Check back soon for my next blog, where I’ll talk about the Gigi’s introduction into the exhibit.
Janet Hawes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.