It wasn’t an instant love connection for Jabali and Husani, two western lowland gorillas at Hogle Zoo. Their courtship took years to develop. Nearly 10 years, actually.
On Thursday, though, the product of their connection was cradled in the crook of 15-year-old Jabali’s left arm. The baby girl, no bigger than a human infant but considerably furrier, held on tightly as her mother scoured their outdoor enclosure for syrup-laced bucket lids, a special treat to celebrate the public debut of the first gorilla baby of its kind born at the zoo.
Jabali and Husani, who were introduced in 2011, are first-time parents, but they aren’t the only new parents at the zoo this summer. Amur leopards Zeya and Dmitri also are enjoying the pitter-patter of little paws around their enclosure. They welcomed twins Skye, a boy, and Storm, a girl, in March.
All three babies are now on display at the zoo. The Amur leopards, fewer than 100 of which are estimated to be alive in the wild, can be seen in the big cat area of the zoo. The baby gorilla can be seen in the indoor section of her family’s enclosure between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. by reservation only. Zookeepers said visitors may occasionally also glimpse the entire family outside, usually in the cooler mornings and evenings.
“This has been such a tough time in the world for everyone, and it’s just such a nice thing to be able to come to work and see something so miraculous and be able to be a part of it and, you know, be a part of this baby’s new life and watch her grow up,” primate supervisor Clair Hallyburton said. “So that’s going to be really exciting for all the keepers here, all the public that come to visit here. Everyone’s so excited about it. It’s just been kind of a ray of sunshine in this whole time.”
The baby gorilla, who also shares the enclosure with her grandmother, JoRayK, has not yet been named. Naming rights will be auctioned off at the Zoo Rendezvous virtual gala and fundraiser on Sept. 10. The zoo reserves the right to veto any name.
Hallyburton said she expects the baby gorilla to stay at the zoo for at least five years, long enough, keepers hope, for Jabali to teach her how to be a good mother. The leopard cubs’ stay will be more fleeting. Kelsey Middleton, the Asian Highlands keeper, said she expects Skye and Storm to stay for at least a couple of months before being sent to another zoo as part of a species breeding and survival program.
“It’s this big group of, like, geneticists and scientists who look at all the genes and where these cats are needed,” Middleton said. “So most likely our two cubs will go off to different cities so they can then be part of the breeding program. But they’ll be here for a while.”
Storm, considered the more feisty of the two 5-month-olds, was already exerting her independence Thursday. While gnawing on a bone almost as big as her tawny, speckled body, she play-growled at her mother to stay away. Zeya, who has given birth to two other sets of cubs at the zoo, paid her little attention.
Storm, who is distinguished from her brother by the white on her paws, is sure to get plenty of that from zoo visitors, however.
“Just come visit them,” Middleton said. “They love people. They love, you know, being cute and they’ll never be this little again.”