By Colette House
New mom Kamba, a western lowland gorilla, cuddles, nurses and holds her newborn baby boy Zachary. Her every move reminds mesmerized Brookfield Zoo patrons of one of the most fundamental and natural of bonds – the love between a mother and her infant.
“When people see Zachary, it’s kind of amazing how they relate to that. They see a primate mother with an infant and it’s a very relatable relationship with how gentle moms are with their kids, how protective they are,” said Craig Demitros, associate curator of primates at Brookfield Zoo. “There’s just something about that, because they are so close to us, that people relate to that a lot.”
Zachary has been delighting visitors at Tropic World’s Africa habitat.
since he was born in the early morning hours of Sept. 23 to parents Kamba, 11, and JoJo, 35. Zachary is estimated to weigh between 4 and 5 pounds, smaller than the average human baby, which is something Demitros said surprises most visitors who see a baby gorilla for the first time.
Zachary has been visible to the public since the day he was born, although as one can expect from a newborn, his daily routine consists mostly of sleeping and nursing.
“He’s pretty much a typical infant, so he sleeps a lot,” said Demitros. “You will see nursing 8, 10, 12 times per day.”
Demitros said visitors might also see Nora, Zachary’s half-sister who will turn two in November, curiously trying to interact with Zachary.
“She tries to sneak up and get a little sniff or try to touch the baby, but Kamba the mom is very protective, and she’ll just kind of put her hand out there and keep her at a distance,” said Demitros.
Demitros said the zoo is very pleased with how easily Kamba has taken to being a mother. Demitros and his team helped prepare her for motherhood as best they could. In the eight-and-a-half months leading to the birth, Kamba underwent maternal training, including exercises that simulated nursing and how to retrieve objects.
“They actually get their chest to the front (of the enclosure), and we can actually put on a syringe or even a breast pump onto their breast to simulate nursing because it’s a behavior and a feeling that they have not experienced,” said Demitros.
While the zoo is keeping Kamba and Zachary on as normal a routine as possible and letting Kamba take the lead, Zachary will soon get a well-baby check from the zoo veterinarians.
“They get immunized against measles, mumps and rubella, and we’ve done oral polio vaccines in the past,” said Demitros. “They’ll get a TB test. They’ll have blood work done,” said Demitros.
Since Tropic World is an open-air exhibit that attracts many visitors daily, the primates inside are susceptible to illnesses humans may be harboring, including colds, running noses, and respiratory infections. Spreading illnesses to the gorillas is one of the main reasons Demitros said the zoo tries to prevent people from throwing food and other materials into the enclosure.
“If we get animals that are ill, we’ve often got children’s Tylenol and
Zachary takes a nap in Kamba’s arms. (Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society)
put them on Robitussin if they have a serious respiratory thing,” said Demitros.
As Zachary grows, he will continue to delight zoo visitors such as Jessica Thomas, who recently visited the Tropic World exhibit.
“It’s fun to see them interacting and walking around,” said Thomas. “It’s interesting to see the baby cling on as the mother roams around.”