Lincoln Park Zoo ape family gets visit from stork

For the first time in six years, a baby gorilla was born in Lincoln Park Zoo's Regenstein Great Ape House, a place where not so long ago it wasn't unusual to see multiple gorilla births every year.

The still unnamed female infant was born Wednesday to 16-year-old Bana, a first-time mother who came to Lincoln Park from Brookfield Zoo, in the hope she would find romance with one of Lincoln Park's silverback gorillas, 22-year-old Kwan.

The ape house has been closed to the public since the birth as keepers maintain a constant vigil to make sure Bana is properly nursing and caring for the baby. They also wanted to make sure the seven other gorillas in her family, including papa Kwan, wouldn't harm the newborn.

With the family doing fine, the ape house will reopen today, giving the public a chance to see some of the intricacies of gorilla family life as it adjusts around the baby.

"She is the 49th gorilla born here at the zoo since the first birth in 1970," said Maureen Leahy, curator of primates.

Though the zoo has had one of the world's most prolific captive-breeding programs for lowland gorillas, births there have become rarer in recent years. That's because Lincoln Park's gorillas already are well-represented genetically in North American zoos, which are trying to keep the zoo gorilla population as diversified as possible.

"Bana had never had a baby at Brookfield, and Kwan has sired only one baby here, so they were a good match for mating," said Leahy of the decision to introduce the two for breeding.

Bana was transferred to Lincoln Park from Brookfield in 2010. She proved socially compatible with Kwan and his harem of five adult females and his juvenile son, Amare, 6. Any question of whether she and Kwan would be romantically interested in each other was resolved the first day they were together, when they mated almost immediately.

As a first-time mother, Bana showed all the correct behaviors toward the baby, letting the others see the infant but not get too close as she gently carried it in her massive arms day and night, Leahy said.

"The one thing she at first had trouble getting right was when the baby cried and she would carry and console it," Leahy said. "At first she held it too high on her chest for it to nurse, but Bana figured it out, and the baby has been nursing fine."

In fact, she said, the entire family has been a little groggy most days because at night the infant wakes every two hours, loudly crying and rousing all the others while Bana consoles and nurses it.

As an outsider coming into the family, Bana has been at the bottom of the family pecking order, said Dominic Calderisi, lead keeper at the ape house, with all the others getting first dibs when it came to food and places to nest for the night. That is changing quickly now that she is a new mother, Calderisi said.

"In a gorilla group, the status of any female with a newborn baby rises right to the top," Calderisi said. "That is because the biggest role for the silverback leader is to protect the newborn mother and the infant from other members of the family that might get a bit too rambunctious or aggressively curious about the baby.

"Kwan has stepped right up in that regard. Except for his son, Amare, we've seen Kwan reprimand every other gorilla in the family about getting too close to the baby when Bana doesn't want them around.

"We fully expect Kwan to get on Amare's case pretty soon too."

wmullen@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading