Gladys, the 5-month-old Western lowland gorilla who captured the hearts of animal lovers after being rejected by her birth mother, is bonding with her new surrogate mother at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
ABC News got a first look at Gladys and her new surrogate mother, M’Linzi, who are now living together at the Cincinnati Zoo. Although Gladys was nervous and tentative on day 1, zookeepers report M’Linzi seemed taken by the young gorilla.
In a tender moment of bonding captured on zoo cameras, M’Linzi, 31, slowly inched her way toward Gladys before gently picking her up and resting her own her chest. She pats Gladys’ back as they both rest and has comforted Gladys at any sign of distress, according to the zoo.
M’Linzi, who’s described by zoo officials as laid-back, gave birth to daughter Mara in 1995.
Gladys and M’Linzi’s introduction, which began June 17, came after the orphaned newborn was nurtured around the clock by human surrogates in an unprecedented three-month experiment. Ten human zookeepers at the Cincinnati Zoo prepared Gladys to be united with her new gorilla mom by wearing faux-fur uniforms, feeding and grooming the orphaned gorilla around-the-clock and training her to behave like a gorilla.
One of those surrogates is Ron Evans, the zoo’s primate team leader, took ABC News’ Matt Gutman to Gladys’ baby pad in May where the gorilla-nurturing took place. Evans calls the process “gorillafication.”
“I always use a gorilla accent when I talk to Gladys,” Evans said, as he belted out what zoologists call belch vocalizations, akin to cooing for gorillas.
Days after she was born in January, Gladys’ mother rejected the 3-pound gorilla. Gladys, a curious and wide-eyed infant, needed a mother to adopt her, but her zoo, the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, didn’t have one, so she was sent to her new home at the Cincinnati Zoo in February. Evans deployed a team of 10 surrogates to successfully make the introduction.
“Using human surrogates as gorilla moms has been a first,” Thane Maynard, the Cincinnati Zoo’s executive director, said in a news release. “The Cincinnati Zoo gorillas have been some of the most prolific gorillas in captivity, making the zoo one of the top breeders of this endangered species in the world and I am proud to say that our staff has continued this tradition of excellence and service with baby Gladys.”
The next step for Gladys will be introducing her to the rest of the gorilla family and other zoo exhibits.
ABC News’ Matt Gutman contributed to this report.