#GorillaStory: Bracelet Baby

This update was written by primate keeper Lynne McMahan.

Our western lowland gorilla infant, Zahra, is doing great! The keeper team and I are always keeping an eye on Zahra and the rest of the troop to make sure everyone is doing ok. But because Calaya is such an excellent mother, we haven't had to do too much!

Like all 6-week-old gorilla babies, Zahra spends a lot of her time sleeping and nursing. But lately, we’re seeing her become more curious about the world beyond Calaya’s protective arms. She actively watches what her mother is doing and pays attention to the other gorillas in the troop. (She also looks at the keepers as we take cute photos of her. She's a natural in front of the camera.)

Baby gorilla Zahra looks up at her mother while wrapping her tiny arms around her mother's wrist.
July 3 | Zahra looks up at Calaya with her tiny arms wrapped around her mother's wrist.

Since Zahra’s arrival in May, Calaya seems to have settled back into her usual routine, interacting with keepers and participating in training like she did in the past. It’ll be a while before Zahra can travel on her own and venture any distance away from her mother. But she has gotten stronger each day and can now cling to her mother's belly as Calaya uses all four of her limbs to walk or climb. On a few occasions, we’ve noticed Calaya moving around the enclosure with Zahra clutched around her wrist. It’s so cute when she does the “bracelet baby” move!

Gorillas are highly social animals, so it’s no surprise the others have accepted the baby as the newest member of the troop. Calaya’s firstborn, Moke, is still very curious about his sister and will try his best to interact with her. I did catch a sweet moment between all three of them the other day. Moke was laying on his side and Calaya allowed him to gently touch Zahra on the top of her head. (But only for a few moments—Calaya is very protective of her newborn!)

Baraka, Zahra and Moke’s father, has been doing a good job as a second-time dad. As the silverback, his job is to resolve any tension or disagreement between the other members of the group. There have been a few scuffles since Zahra's birth, and Baraka has taken extra care to protect Calaya and keep the other females away from her as they work out their conflicts. He’s also spending time playing with Moke. I recently caught the two of them having a play session inside one of the chutes that connects their indoor and outdoor habitats:

Raising a western lowland gorilla baby is unique for a couple of reasons. Because gorillas live in troops, there are often youngsters from multiple females around at the same time. Being in a family troop helps keep the young gorillas safe, but it also provides them with many adult gorillas to learn natural behaviors from. This will be especially useful when Zahra gets a little older and she begins the process of training for routine health checkups with the keepers. But for now, we’re just soaking in all the cuteness!

Want more #GorillaStory updates? Follow the latest news about our western lowland gorilla troop here.