This Baby Gorilla Is Being Hand-Reared By Zookeepers

With a mother who is struggling to care for him, zookeepers are playing mom.

western lowland gorilla with keeper at Bristol Zoo gardens
The baby gorilla is held by a zookeeper.

Bristol Zoo Gardens

A western lowland gorilla baby is being given round-the-clock care by keepers at a U.K. zoo because his mother is having a difficult time looking after him.

Now 2 months old, the gorilla was delivered naturally by his mother Kala at the Bristol Zoo Gardens in Bristol, England. But she struggled to care for him and give him enough milk. So zookeepers have been bottle feeding him day and night and carrying him around.

“The infant gorilla is being hand reared by an experienced team of senior mammal keepers who are doing their best to treat him like a gorilla mother would, expecting him to hold on tight and making gorilla vocalizations to make reintroduction into the group as easy for him as possible,” Lynsey Bugg, curator of mammals for the Bristol Zoo, told Treehugger.

When the keepers carry the baby, they wear a string vest over their uniform in order to encourage him to cling to them, just as he would do his mother’s hair.

“In terms of handling they also pick him up and move like a mum would, using his hands, rather than under the arms," Bugg says. "They are also starting to put him on their backs for short periods. They will do this more as he gets older to replicate how mum would carry him around.”

During the day, the keepers care for the baby in the gorilla house with other gorillas nearby. This allows his mother and the other gorillas to see and smell him and to make sure he is accepted as a member of their family group. It also lets him become accustomed to all the sounds, smells, and sights of the gorillas and their habitat.

western lowland gorilla
The baby is expected to be reunited with the other gorillas in four months.

Bristol Zoo Gardens

Zookeepers say the baby will be hand-raised for the next four months, after which they hope he will be ready to return to the family group.

“Hand-rearing any animal is not a decision we take lightly as our preference is always for an animal to be reared naturally by its own mother,” Bugg says.

“Sadly this doesn’t always happen and in this instance we decided that it was in the baby gorilla’s best interests for us to hand rear him to ensure he had the best chance of survival.”

The baby gorilla, who has yet to be named, is doing very well, says Bugg.

“He is feeding regularly, gaining weight and is strong and healthy.”