Abandoned Baby Gorilla Finds New Mom

An abandoned baby gorilla is adopted by a surrogate mother.

ByABC News via logo
May 13, 2009, 8:04 PM

June 5, 2009 — -- When a new baby animal is born at a zoo it is cause for celebration. But when Hasani, a Western Lowland gorilla, was born at the San Francisco Zoo, it was also cause for concern.

Hasani's mother, Monifa, abandoned the newborn shortly after giving birth.

"The biological mom gave birth, cleaned up the baby and just walked away," said Kathy Edwards, senior gorilla keeper at the San Francisco Zoo. "She felt like her job was done."

Monifa was a first-time mom, and although she'd shown all the right instincts during the pregnancy, she was immediately disinterested in her new baby. She checked him occasionally in the first hours, but refused to hold him or feed him.

Zookeepers quickly checked to make sure Hasani was healthy then returned him to his nest. They tried to interest Monifa in her newborn, but it just didn't take.

"She just kept going as far away from him as possible. She really showed no nurturing instincts," said Corinne MacDonald, curator of primates at the zoo.

After nearly three days of watching the scene play out on Web cams installed in the gorilla facility, the zookeepers and vets made a decision to remove Hasani and hand rear him.

"We don't know why, or if this rejection happens in the wild because witnessing a gorilla birth is so rare, but it does happen in zoos," said Edwards.

For months the staff fed, nurtured and played with Hasani 24 hours a day. He was healthy and seemingly happy. But the goal from the beginning was to reintroduce the baby to his gorilla family.

But that introduction mandated an ambassador for the baby, another gorilla who would protect and care for Hasani. Gorilla surrogacy has been accomplished at other zoos across the world, but it's always a tenuous experiment.

"We worried, but we had plans in place for all the possible scenarios," says MacDonald.