Baby Gorilla Gladys Meets Her Gorilla Surrogate Mom

Posted July 1, 2013

CINCINNATI (July 1, 2013) The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is excited to announce that Gladys, the five-month-old Western lowland gorilla who captured the hearts of animal-lovers around the world earlier this year, after being rejected by her mom, is now living with her new gorilla surrogate mom.

Gladys began the introduction to her new mom, “M’Linzi” on Monday, June 17.  And after just over a week of bonding, staff at the Cincinnati Zoo are very positive that the two have bonded and will remain together.  For the last week, Cincinnati Zoo staff has watched as M’Linzi has carried Gladys gently from one area to the next, allowed Gladys to pick at her food, slept with Gladys for naps and overnight, watched as Gladys received her daily bottles, and comforted Gladys at any sign of distress.

“I have been often asked how hard it was going to be to give up Gladys, “Won’t we be sad when she transfers to a gorilla surrogate?”  And I have to say absolutely not.  In fact, it is the complete opposite. It was one of the happiest moments in my entire career and life.  Not because I had not immensely enjoyed taking care of her but rather I now know that she will have a great future.  Gorillas like all primates must live with their own kind to achieve the psychological fulfillment vital to a long, healthy and happy life.  From the first moment I looked at Gladys in Brownsville Texas, all I wanted to do was to help her get to this.  Gladys is not our baby.  Gladys is not our pet.  Gladys is a gorilla and will now forever live as one.  I am thrilled to see her make that transition. There were some tears but not of sadness, rather of elation when that moment finally happened.”

In early June, after months of being raised around-the-clock by human surrogates, keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo recognized that Gladys was quickly achieving all of the significant milestones needed to begin thinking about introducing her to a gorilla mother.  Being a human surrogate to a baby gorilla has been no easy task.  Keepers lived with Gladys 24/7, teaching her to act and think like a gorilla.   They fed Gladys, held her to their chest and eventually even carried her on their backs.  They explored every nook of the exhibit areas, both inside and out, and were even seen knuckle-walking with Gladys in the yard.  During their 8-hour shifts they wore all black scrubs and black faux fur vests, to imitate gorilla fur and they even vocalized like a gorilla, teaching Gladys exactly what the different sounds mean.

“The Cincinnati Zoo has a “first” for almost everything,” said Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo. “However, using human surrogates as gorilla moms has been a first even for us. The Cincinnati Zoo gorillas have been some of the most prolific gorillas in zoos, making the Zoo one of the top breeders of this endangered species in the world and I am proud to say that our staff has continued this tradition of excellence and service with baby Gladys.  I, for one, could not be more proud of them (and her).”

And now, with these first introduction milestones achieved, staff at the Cincinnati Zoo has to think about introducing Gladys and M’Linzi to the other exhibit areas C inside and out, and to the rest of Gladys’ gorilla family.

M’Linzi was born at the Cincinnati Zoo on December 7, 1982 to mother, “Amani” and father, “Ramses.” On August 13, 1995 M’Linzi gave birth to daughter “Mara” and was the perfect mother. Mara still resides at the Cincinnati Zoo today.  M’Linzi has a laid back, non aggressive personality that aids her socialization.  She has done well in any gorilla family over the last 31 years and is currently part of the Zoo’s silverback (“Jomo”) group and it is hoped that eventually she and Gladys will join this group.  However, M’Linzi’s flexible social skills create many options for whatever scenario ultimately works out best for Gladys. For now the Zoo’s staff is focused totally on baby/surrogate mother bonding.

The Cincinnati Zoo will continue to send updates on the baby gorilla through its website,, the Cincinnati Zoo blog, Facebook page, Twitter and YouTube accounts.  If everything goes as planned, visitors could see Gladys and M’Linzi outside later this summer. [toggle title=”more info”]

On January 29, the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, welcomed a 4.7 pound, female gorilla – Gladys. After the birth, mother, 14 -year-old “Kiazi,” didn’t respond well and rejected the infant.  This behavior, which occasionally happens in first-time mothers, resulted in keepers from the Gladys Porter Zoo stepping in to hand-rear the infant until they had a plan in place. Unfortunately, all of the viable surrogates there already had young gorillas, so they began to look elsewhere.  After countless phone calls with the Gladys Porter Zoo, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Ape Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Maternal Management Committee and the Western Lowland Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) Committee, the Cincinnati Zoo was determined to be the best home for the baby.

There are about 765 gorillas in zoos worldwide including approximately 360 in the AZA’s SSP.  The Cincinnati Zoo is now home to eight Western lowland gorillas, including Silverback Jomo and his family of Samantha, M’Linzi, Asha and Anju.

Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in the wild, with less than 175,000 individuals. Due primarily to habitat destruction caused by logging, mineral mining and agricultural expansion, wild gorilla numbers continue to shrink.  The bushmeat trade C the killing of wild animals to be used as human food C is also a major threat to the western lowland gorilla population throughout the Central African rainforests.  Over 1,000 gorillas are illegally poached for the bushmeat trade each year. The Cincinnati Zoo supports wild gorilla conservation efforts like the Mbeli Bai Study in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo.  The Mbeli Bai Study is the longest running research being done with wild western lowland gorillas.  Through research, local education programs, publications and documentaries, the Mbeli Bai Study is raising international awareness for gorillas and their struggle for survival. For more information, visit

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is open 364 days a year.