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Jacksonville Zoo Hopes ‘Plan A’ Will Work In Reuniting Baby Gorilla With Mother Tuesday

Keepers at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens have been busy caring for a baby gorilla in anticipation of reuniting her with her mother. 

Gandai was separated from her mother and the rest of the Western lowland gorilla group shortly after her birth on September 28 because her mother, the deaf gorilla Kumbuka,  immediately began carrying the infant in an unsafe way. Kumbuka had behaved the same way before she lost two previous offspring.

The zoo's staff has theorized that Kumbuka's hearing disability may prevent her from detecting when her youngsters are in distress. She first came to Jacksonville in 2014, and since then the zoo’s gorilla team has been working at guiding Kumbuka to become a successful mother. Training has included infant handling.

Zookeepers have also acted as interm mothers for Gandai, including walking on hands and knees so the infant could learn how to properly “grab on.” They also took turns sleeping in the gorilla building so that Gandai wouldn’t be apart from her family.

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Gandai and Kumbuka have stayed connected through a mesh barrier. The next step, planned for Tuesday, Feb. 26, is allowing Kumbuka full access. The hope is now that Gandai is strong enough to position herself on Kumbuka, that nature will take over with the help of Kumbuka’s new infant-handling training.

The zoo calls that Plan A, with the ultimate hope being then Gandai’s father will also join them. If that all goes well, then the gorilla team will look at introducing the other gorillas.

But the gorilla team also knows there’s a chance Kumbuka won’t be able to care for Gandai. If that happens, Plan B calls for another experienced mother, Bulera, to stepp in as a surrogate.  Bulera has consistently shown interest in Gandai.

Plan C is for Gandai to go to live at another zoo for surrogacy so she can join a natural social group and thrive.

The zoo has stressed that whatever outcome prevails, it will be based on Gandai’s safety and wellness.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.