#GorillaStory: Zahra Wiggles and Tries Her Best

This update was written by primate keeper Francesca Bozzo.

Every chance Zahra gets to explore her surroundings, she takes!

Although our 3-month-old western lowland gorilla infant still spends all her time under the care of her mother, Calaya, Zahra is getting more and more curious about what’s going on around her. Over the last few weeks, Calaya has started to allow her baby to hang out in the hay right in front of her without holding onto her. Calaya is still quick to scoop Zahra up whenever she needs to. And if another gorilla or keeper comes nearby, her mom instincts immediately kick in and she makes sure to pick Zahra up or at least have a hand protecting her.

Caring for Zahra is extra special for me because this is my first time working with a newborn animal.  Every day is different, and it is amazing to see how much Zahra has developed over the last three months. I have loved being here for all of the milestones she has already reached, like trying to hold herself up and growing in her first few teeth. It is very exciting to work with a baby gorilla! 

Although Zahra hasn’t quite figured out how to crawl, she wiggles around and tries her best. When her mom lets her sit on the ground, Zahra is always trying to pick things up like hay and alfalfa to investigate—mostly by putting them in her mouth. We noticed she has a few teeth coming in, so we will be sure to provide extra enrichment items for her to chew on as her teeth start to emerge.  But her motor skills are still developing, so she likely won’t use these items until she is a little bigger and can pick them up better.

In the meantime, Zahra watches constantly as Calaya is being fed or participating in training with the primate keepers. While Calaya is foraging, Zahra holds onto mom for support and practices standing and strengthening her legs. During afternoon feeding time, while the rest of the troop is hanging out in various spots of their enclosure, Zahra takes the opportunity to attempt to stand up and hold herself against the mesh of the enclosure. She even tries to get keepers’ attention by reaching for the food we are feeding Calaya!

Zahra also seems to enjoy observing her big brother, Moke. For the last few years, Moke was used to being the center of the troop’s attention, but he has been adjusting well to Zahra’s arrival. He is spending more time with the other gorillas rather than with Calaya; in fact, he and Kibibi play almost non-stop throughout the day.  Moke will even sometimes wrangle his father, silverback Baraka, into a wrestling match.

I think that Calaya is starting to trust Moke a little bit more around Zahra, too. A couple weeks ago, I saw the three of them sitting next to each other and Moke looked like he was helping Zahra attempt to stand on all fours. Calaya let Moke do this for a couple of minutes before she picked Zahra back up. Mandara, who has had six offspring of her own, likes to watch Zahra from a distance. Baraka has been curious as well. It will be fun to see how their relationships change with Zahra as she gets older and when she becomes more independent. But for now, Calaya is still very protective of her baby!

I am so excited to watch Zahra continue to grow. These next few years will be fun to experience as she becomes more independent and her personality starts to shine through. Since Calaya is a second time mother and has been taking such good care of Zahra, we haven’t needed to change our routine very much. The biggest adjustment we made after her birth was just making sure we kept a close eye on her, especially in her early months. It’s always nice to take a few minutes every now and again to watch our animals—especially when there is a baby—so it was an easy adjustment to make. And I love any excuse to watch Zahra!

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