1st Time Mom Stares At Baby Gorilla. Staff Hold Their Breath Moment Her Animal Instincts Kick In

Animal handlers never know how a wild creature in their care will react in certain situations. So when a 15-year-old western lowland gorilla named Calaya gave birth to the first male in nine years at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, staffers held their breath to see what she would do. Western lowland gorillas are considered a critically endangered species, so this birth was monumental. To help prepare Calaya for the impending birth, animal keepers showed her how to smooch, gently cuddle and even nurse using a plush gorilla toy, videos and observation of other moms.

The staff held out hope that the new mom would adjust to motherhood quite quickly, but they had a surrogate mom waiting just in case. Everyone had picked out a significant name for the baby, Moke, which means “little one” in Lingala. The baby arrived in the evening to a seemingly joyful mom. Dad Baraka, 26, stayed at a safe distance with the other gorillas in their group, allowing for privacy for the mom-to-be as she labored. They still were able to see Calaya give birth and they all rumbled in approval once the baby had arrived.

Calaya was born in captivity, too, at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, and was added to the national breeding program for this very reason – to welcome a new baby to a species that was dwindling. That’s why it was critical that she bonded with the baby. Right after Moke was delivered, the staff nervously watched what Cayala would do next. Would she groom the baby and nuzzle him, or reject him? Well, they couldn’t believe what they saw! Everyone’s eyes went wide as they gazed into the enclosure, witnessing the rare sight firsthand. Watch the video below and see what the new mom did right when her baby was born.