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Columbus Zoo Gets Abandoned Baby Gorilla

The Columbus Zoo has a new family member. It's a baby gorilla comes to Columbus from a Colorado Springs zoo. It's in Columbus because its mother abandoned it. The Colorado zoo hopes a surrogate mother in Columbus will adopt the baby.

Animal keeper Debbie Fenton tries to get Umande to laugh, but the 7-and-a-half month old gorilla is determined to stay quiet. The little gorilla takes in everything that's going on around him. And like a 7-month-old baby boy, Umande, is prone to relieving himself at any moment, forcing zookeepers and reporter quests to scurry out of the way.

Fenton works at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, and is staying with Umande until he is out of quarantine. It's customary for animals new to the zoo to be kept separate from other animals.

Umande was born to a first-time mother who had not been around babies since she herself was very little.

"She was very interested in him, but she just didn't know what to do. She didn't know if she was supposed to pick him up and take care of him," Fenton said.

Once Umande was a little older, he was introduced to other possible surrogate mothers at the Colorado zoo, but none of them showed interest in caring for him. Fenton said abandonment is not that unusual. She blames part of this maternal unawareness to captivity.

"When gorillas first started being born in captivity, people were afraid to let the moms take care of them because they thought, we thought, we could do a better job as people. So now we have this whole generation of gorillas that don't know how to raise their own babies because they've never been exposed to it," Fenton said.

Marianne Huber is a docent at the Columbus zoo and is a veteran in the gorilla nursery. Huber said Umande's next step is to spend time with two social groups. Each group has a Silverback male and four or five females.

"They'll watch to see who shows the most interest. We have target in mind, a target mother. But they want to watch and see how all of them will react to the baby," Huber said.

Huber said in each group there are females who have raised their own babies and been surrogate mothers. And both Silverback males are docile and have served as surrogate fathers. The Columbus Zoo has taken in 12 abandoned baby gorillas. Huber said there has never been a time at the Columbus Zoo where a surrogacy did not work. And she does not expect that to happen this time.

"Maybe we'll have to try more than one. You never know. We've done that in the past. But it's usually the female that they target on first ends up with the baby," Huber said.

Umande is expected to be introduced to the two social groups in the next couple of months.