16/12/2016

A Christmas miracle! Little Afia moves in with the gorilla troop

Keepers have announced that ‘little miracle’ Afia, the young Western lowland gorilla who has been hand-reared since birth, is now fully integrated with the gorilla troop.

It’s been an eventful journey since the young primate was born 10 months ago by emergency caesarean section and fought for her life before being cared for by keepers to ensure her survival.

In that time keepers have given more than 1,570 bottle feeds, changed nearly 1,400 nappies, given 112 piggy back rides, and spent countless sleepless nights caring for her round-the-clock.

Now, having reached a huge milestone, Afia is no longer being cared for by keepers but is spending 24-hours a day with her new gorilla family. She can often be seen exploring her new home on Gorilla Island, or clinging onto her new, surrogate mother.

The process of introducing Afia to her primate family has been a long and delicate one for our team of experienced gorilla keepers. Introductions began in October when Afia spent time in direct contact with surrogate mother, Romina, for the first time.

It was a tense time for keepers and was not without its challenges, as Lynsey Bugg, Curator of Mammals, explains: “Since her birth in February, our team has worked tirelessly to hand-rear Afia 24/7 while being mindful to ensure human imprinting was kept to a minimum.

“Our ultimate goal has always been to reunite Afia with her gorilla family, so we all feel immensely proud and relieved to now see her where she belongs.”

Afia was born by emergency caesarean section earlier this year and it was touch and go as to whether she or her birth mother, Kera, would survive. “We all held our breath”, explained Rowena Killick, staff veterinarian at the Zoo. “It was an extremely tense process and the safety of both mother and baby was paramount. When Afia was delivered she needed assistance to help her to breathe.

“Kera was quite slow to recover from general anaesthesia and it soon became clear she was still very unwell. She was treated intensively for severe anaemia in the weeks that followed, and finally completed all her treatment eight and a half months later. She was not well enough to care for Afia due to this illness.”

Afia was hand-reared by keepers behind-the-scenes in the our award-winning Gorilla House, where she could be in close proximity to the rest of the troop.

At eight months old, she was strong enough to gradually begin meeting other members of the gorilla family. Watching relationships form and with Afia developing well and growing stronger, the decision was made to start introductions to see if she could join the troop. It was a long and delicate process.

Romina, one of the older females in the troop, had been identified as the surrogate mother for the baby and training had taken place before the introduction so that Romina would return Afia to keepers for bottle feeding several times a day.

Lynsey explains: “Introductions were tense for us and we needed to take into account the different personalities within our troop. We staggered the introductions and allowed our silverback gorilla, Jock, to be as involved as much as possible. We needed to ensure Jock didn’t feel we were intervening in running his troop, and we had to be confident that he would discipline others who were a little excited or rough with Afia.”

She added: “After such an eventful year, it’s wonderful to watch Afia with her new family. We know each of the gorillas so well and are really proud of them all. This has not only been a huge career highlight for me, but also for my whole team. We have all learnt a lot and celebrated together. 2016 will be a year we will never forget!”

Afia will still require milk feeds from her keepers until she is around four years old. Members of the public can now see all seven members of the gorilla family playing and relaxing together inside the Gorilla House.

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