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Gladys the Gorilla turns one

A one year old birthday party today for Gladys the Gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo.  The baby Western-Lowland gorilla was brought to the Cincinnati zoo after her mother rejected her.  Keepers had dressed as a gorilla to help raise her.

The keepers created a gorilla birthday cake – Here's what happened when they gave it to Gladys:

In a release, the zoo says because gorilla diets do not consist of sugary frosting, commissary keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo got creative and baked a cake using two layers of rice, raisin, banana, sweet potato, and biscuits, topped with pureed banana and sweet potato, and decorated with a variety of fruit, including pomegranates, lemons and grapes. 

“People often ask me what it was like to go through this experience with Gladys,” said Ron Evans, Primate Curator at the Cincinnati Zoo. “And I can honestly tell them that it was unlike anything I have experienced in my 30 years here.  It was the best experience of my life and something I hope we never have to do again.”

The release goes on to say since June, Gladys has been slowly introduced to four adult female gorillas. The first, “M’Linzi”, quickly stepped up and became Gladys’ surrogate mom.  Since then, “Mara”, “Samantha”, and “Chewie”, have joined the growing group.   Eventually, staff plans to introduce a silverback gorilla to this group, but those changes take time and patience.

Gladys was born on January 29, 2013 at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, weighing 4.7 pounds.  After the birth, mother, 15 -year-old “Kiazi,” didn’t respond well and rejected the infant.  This behavior, which occasionally happens in first-time mothers, resulted in keepers from the Gladys Porter Zoo stepping in to hand-rear the infant until they had a plan in place. Unfortunately, all of the viable surrogates there already had young gorillas, so they began to look elsewhere.  After countless phone calls with the Gladys Porter Zoo, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Ape Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Maternal Management Committee and the Western Lowland Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) Committee, the Cincinnati Zoo was determined to be the best home for the baby.  Upon her arrival, Cincinnati Zoo keepers lived with Gladys 24/7, teaching her to act and think like a gorilla.   They fed Gladys, held her to their chest, and eventually even carried her on their backs.  They explored every nook of the exhibit areas, both inside and out, and were even seen knuckle-walking with Gladys in the yard.  During their 8-hour shifts they wore all black scrubs and black faux fur vests, to imitate gorilla fur and they even vocalized like a gorilla, teaching Gladys what the different sounds mean. 

There are currently about 765 gorillas in zoos worldwide including approximately 360 in the AZA’s SSP.  The Cincinnati Zoo is now home to eight Western lowland gorillas, including Silverback “Jomo” and his family of “Asha” and “Anju.” 

Maryanne Zeleznik is responsible for all news and public affairs programming at WVXU. She also hosts Morning Edition Monday through Friday.