Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

March 4, 2013

Grunting Ohio zoo workers act as moms to gorilla

CINCINNATI (AP) — Some zoo workers in Cincinnati are going ape over a baby gorilla.

They are wearing all-black outfits, grunting affectionately, and generally imitating mother gorillas to help the month-old baby adjust to a new home and get ready for a surrogate mother. Later, they will don hairy vests and carry baby Gladys on their backs, put on kneepads and gloves to move around like a gorilla, and they might knuckle-walk and climb a tree with baby on board.

Even though some of Gladys' mamas have beards and moustaches, they are trying to give her a mother's love, as much like a gorilla as they are able. They cuddle her, let her hang on them or squirm in their laps, lie down next to her and talk to her with different guttural sounds.

"Whatever a gorilla mom would do with her baby is what we have to do with this baby," said Ron Evans, the zoo's primate team leader and one of Gladys' human surrogates. "Everything that we can do ... obviously, I'm not producing milk."

He's heading a team of seven to 10 people who work in shifts of eight hours or so to provide the baby with 24-hour companionship. She came from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where she was born Jan. 29 to a first-time mother who showed little maternal instinct. Zoo employees Jerry and Cindy Stones — the baby was named Gladys Stones on Friday — bottle-fed and cared for her there.

The zoos agreed it was best to move her to Cincinnati, where two experienced mother gorillas are available to serve as surrogates. Over the years, 48 gorillas have been successfully born live at Cincinnati.

Evans said the Columbus Zoo in Ohio has been a global pioneer in taking gorilla babies in need of surrogates from other zoos, but this is a first for Cincinnati. Zoo employees want to be careful, and have a four- to five-month transition period to make sure first that the baby is healthy, then will be able to socialize and be accepted within its population of eight other gorillas.

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