Pittsburgh zoo's baby gorilla back with mom

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The baby gorilla born in April at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is back.

After zookeepers noticed his mother was having problems nursing him in May, they removed him from her and the public exhibit, and began a 24-hour care and bottle-feeding program that lasted until last week, when the as-yet-unnamed infant gorilla was reunited with his mother and then his extended five-member family.

Now zoo visitors can see the 5-month-old in the gorilla exercise yard, riding on the back of his mother, Moka, being cradled by his grandmother, Zakula, and sitting in the lap of his father, Mrithi.

Roseann Giambro, a keeper who does a lot of work with the zoo's gorillas, said more than 20 zookeepers, docents, volunteers and staff fed the baby gorilla by bottle and worked hard to raise him with as little human imprint as possible.

"We were nervous when we gave him back to his mother," Ms. Giambro said. "We had kept them separated by a [metal] mesh fence so their bond wasn't broken and so she could touch and sniff him.

"I had him in an inside room and, after I got myself out, we opened a door and she came in. She picked him right up and hasn't put him down much since."

Two days later, the rest of the gorilla family was allowed to enter the room, Ms. Giambro said, and they've been together without a problem ever since.

"By last Thursday we saw him sitting in the lap of his father, Mrithi," Ms. Giambro said.

The baby gorilla weighed 7 pounds when it was born and weighs 15 pounds now. He can climb up and down things, still takes a vitamin-fortified formula bottle four times a day and has started to eat soft foods like banana, kiwi and sweet potatoes.

Ms. Giambro said the Pittsburgh zoo's treatment and feeding of the baby gorilla followed a protocol established by the Columbus Zoo, which has hand-raised several baby gorillas in a surrogate gorilla parenting program.

"We were lucky because at the same time we were raising our baby gorilla, the Cincinnati Zoo was hand-raising a baby that was a little older than ours, and the Columbus Zoo had one, too," she said. "Our advantage came from the fact that our little one was part of a family group and they wanted him back."

Visitors can see the baby every day in the gorilla exhibit yard, except for 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when he walks inside for his bottle feeding.

breaking - region

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published September 19, 2013 4:30 AM


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