- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

A newborn gorilla's in our midst.
The sex of the infant gorilla born Monday at the National Zoo is not yet known because its mama won't let zookeepers get close enough to find out.
But its bright eyes, glossy hair and robust skin indicate it is healthy, zoo officials said.
"It's a happy baby," said Lisa Stevens, an assistant curator. "Usually, you don't hear a lot of crying unless the baby is uncomfortable. But since everything's fine here, we don't hear much crying."
The new arrival becomes the ninth western lowland gorilla to call Washington home. Deriving from West and Central African countries, including Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon, the primates are of the genus gorilla, species gorilla and subspecies gorilla, Mrs. Stevens said.
The mother, Mandara, is a 19-year-old on loan from the Milwaukee County Zoo and the father, Kuja, is on loan from Chicago's Brookfield Zoo.
The exchange represents efforts to encourage procreation of the endangered species.
"There's a lot of concern. This underlines the collaboration and cooperation it takes to manage gorillas," said Mrs. Stevens, a zoologist who has worked with primates for the past 20 years. "What we have in zoos is a genetically healthy population of ambassadors for their relatives who live in the wild."
Forces working against the gorilla population include habitat lost to logging and poaching for meat, she said.
The record life expectancy for a gorilla in captivity at a zoo is 54; in the wild, it's around 40, Mrs. Stevens said.
The gestation period for gorillas is just short of nine months, and newborns generally weigh up to five pounds at birth.
Shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, Mandara became restless and demonstrated unusual behavior, signaling she was going to bear an offspring, Mrs. Stevens said.
At 5:45, the newborn emerged.
"Gorilla mothers are very good mothers, and Mandara is very protective of it. Mandara's doing her job," Mrs. Stevens said. "Even though she's comfortable, we have to wait for her to show it to us."
Zoo officials are waiting for the key moment when Mandara will hold her infant at the right angle in order to determine the sex, which she said is the first task. There is no time frame for selecting a name.
Names used for other gorillas are Swahili, which is a language commonly spoken in East Africa.
Kuja, the father, is making sure the newborn's older siblings behave themselves in the company of the new arrival, Mrs. Stevens said.
From behind the enclosure's bars, Mandara approaches curators and keepers while the newborn clings to her abdomen, another sign of healthy offspring.
"Mandara can pick me out of a crowd. She knows me. She shows us the baby every day," Mrs. Stevens said. "I would be intruding if I went into the enclosure. She could, by mistake, fatally injure me if I get too close."
She said gorilla nursing is consistent with human nursing.
The newborn is available to the viewing public, and the new exhibit has provided much enjoyment, she said.
"Everybody's been thrilled, and everyone's really enjoying watching the mother and infant," Mrs. Stephens said. "Gorillas have very close families. Families coming to the zoo can really relate to those dynamics."


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