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Baby Gorilla Nurses; Mother Holds Her For First Time

Above: A baby gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is held by her mother, Imani, for the first time on March 24, 2014.

A baby gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was physically introduced with her mother, Imani, for the first time Monday morning.

Animal care staff placed the 12-day-old gorilla on a soft hay pile and then let Imani come in to physically meet her daughter for the first time.

The newborn gorilla has been recovering from pneumonia after undergoing surgery to repair a collapsed lung.

Imani examined the young gorilla by smelling her and then picked her up, carrying and cradling her around the bedroom area, even letting the baby cling and hold onto her back as she walked around. Animal care staff let other members of the gorilla troop have visual contact with Imani and the baby through a protective mesh barrier while the introductions occurred.

The baby, who has yet to be named, was born at the Safari Park near Escondido on March 12 after an emergency C-section was performed.

Since the physical introduction occurred Monday, Imani has been extremely attached, holding and constantly carrying around the young gorilla, according to the zoo.

Animal care staff let Imani spend time alone bonding with her baby and then let 5-year-old gorilla Frank come into the off-exhibit bedroom area to be with the mother and baby. Imani has a special bond with Frank, as she served as a surrogate mother to him after he was born at the San Diego Zoo in 2008. Both Imani and Frank came to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park from the San Diego Zoo in January 2013.

"Initially she was just carrying the baby, she never set the baby down," said Andrew Stallard, animal care supervisor at the Safari Park. "About three hours in, she began nursing the baby. After about a five-minute bout, the baby fell asleep, which is exactly what we were looking for, so we were really excited.”

The baby gorilla was observed nursing, but staff will continue to closely monitor the infant to make sure she is getting the nutrition she needs. This is the first baby for Imani and the 17th gorilla to be born at the Safari Park. The Safari Park is home to eight gorillas, including the new baby.

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