Baby gorilla 'Moke' born at Smithsonian's National Zoo

Calaya and baby Moke. (Photo courtesy of Matt Spence, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

(KUTV) — For the first time in nine years, a baby western lowland gorilla was born at Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute on Sunday, April 15.

The baby male gorilla was named Moke [Mo-KEY], which means "junior" or "little one" in the Lingala language. Moke was born at 6:25 p.m. to 15-year-old mother Calaya and 26-year-old father Baraka.

Animal care staff are cautiously optimistic that the newborn will thrive, as they have observed Calaya nursing Moke, who clings to his mother.

Zoo staff confirmed Calaya was pregnant in the fall of 2017 using a common human pregnancy test.

“The birth of this western lowland gorilla is very special and significant, not only to our Zoo family but also to this critically endangered species as a whole,” said Meredith Bastian, curator of primates. “The primate team’s goal was to set Calaya up for success as best we could, given that she is a first-time mother. Doing so required great patience and dedication on the part of my team, and I am very proud of them and Calaya.”

To help Calaya prepare for motherhood, staff acclimated the gorilla to experiences of motherhood beforehand, hoping to enhance the likelihood that she would care for the infant.

Animal Keeper Melba Brown noticed that Calaya learned most effectively when watching other gorillas train and repeat the actions. This breakthrough helped Brown connect with Calaya and earn her trust.

Calaya reportedly learned basic husbandry behaviors quickly, forming the foundation for more complicated maternal training, including ultrasounds, urinating on cue for hormone analysis and breast manipulation for lactation assessments and nutrient analysis, a news release states.

Brown reinforced Calaya's motherly behaviors by presenting her with pictures of mother gorillas and giving her a plush gorilla toy to gently touch and kiss.

The animal keeper also trained Calaya to present her chest so that keepers could place the plush gorilla up to her breast to nurse.

“This infant’s arrival triggers many emotions—joy, excitement, relief—and pride that all of our perseverance in preparing Calaya for motherhood has paid off,” said Brown. “We will provide support to her if need be, but I have every confidence that Calaya will be a great mom to Moke. I am excited to see how he will fit into the group dynamic. There are a lot of different personalities in this family troop, but they all work well together.”

The Great Ape House is closed in order to allow Calaya time and space to bond with her new baby Moke.

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