Cincinnati Zoo celebrates success with baby gorilla, human surrogates

CINCINNATI - Humans have been transforming into gorilla moms to help a shunned baby at the Cincinnati Zoo survive -- and the unusual tactic is working.

The baby gorilla, named Gladys Stones, will turn 2 months old Friday.

[PHOTOS: Cincinnati Zoo's baby gorilla, Gladys 5.wews.com/jyF4K ]

For the past few weeks, a team of eight human surrogates have been rotating shifts feeding the gorilla, holding her up to their chest, and carrying her on their back like a real gorilla mother. The surrogates also knuckle-walk like a gorilla to teach Gladys.

The surrogates have also been wearing black scrubs and furry vests made of various fabrics.

"Why we do that is because eventually, she's got to go in with a gorilla. And our scrubs that we wear are black and that's important so it looks, it's dark like a gorilla. But she just has to get used to different feels , " said Cincinnati Zoo Primate Team Leader Ron Evans.

The primary goal for the human surrogates was to make sure Gladys Stone was healthy and strong. And on her 2-month birthday, Evans says she's in great condition. The baby is above average in size for a gorilla her age.

Now, it's on to the next step of the "gorillafication of Gladys."

"Phase Two is more up close and personal time with the other gorillas, through we call it a ‘howdy mesh,' they say ‘howdy' for the first time, and she gets to start seeing those guys more often every day, and that's a critical time too, because that's where we assess which one of the females will make the best potential surrogate, based on their level of interest in Gladys," Evans said.

Evans says several female gorillas have already shown interest in the baby.

"There's a couple of younger females who aren't our top picks because they've never been mothers themselves, they're 18 years old, but they're just absolutely infatuated with her," he said. "Oh gosh, and they want to smell her and lick her and they just love her."

Evans says the goal for Gladys to be fully dependent on a surrogate gorilla mom is by the time she's three to five months old. He says it's difficult not to get attached to the baby gorilla, but his proudest day is yet to come.

"As much as we enjoy spending time with Gladys now, the big payoff comes when we don't get to hold Gladys anymore. That's what we're looking forward to."

Using human surrogates as gorilla moms is a first for the Cincinnati Zoo, but it has been done several times across the country. Evans says the Columbus Zoo created the surrogate style being used with Gladys, but zoos across the country have worked together to determine the best way to care for the large animals.

"They're so high profile and they require so much behavior management and detail that we all have to pull our resources to make sure we're doing the best we can for the animals," Evans said.

Gladys was born on Jan. 29 at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where she was hand-reared by zookeepers because her mother displayed a lack of maternal care, according to a press release. Her mother, 14-year-old Kiazi, is on a breeding loan transfer from the Cincinnati Zoo.

The baby gorilla was named Gladys Stones as a way to pay homage to the animals former home. She was also given the name "Stones" after the Stones family who cared for her before her arrival in the Tri-State, zoo officials say.

Evans is reminding the public that even though humans are caring for Gladys, primates do not make good pets.

"They require to be with their own kind, just like humans, it's no different. So no matter how good you thikn you can be to a primate, you don't want one as a pet. And that's not what we're doing with Gladys, Gladys is a gorilla. Gladys is going in with gorilla as soon as we can get her in with gorillas."

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