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Baby gorilla Afia gets first taste of outdoors after emergency caesarean birth

Published 31/03/2016

Bristol Zoo's baby gorilla Afia, born by emergency caesarian section, emerges outside for the first time with keeper Lynsey Bugg, assistant curator of mammals
Bristol Zoo's baby gorilla Afia, born by emergency caesarian section, emerges outside for the first time with keeper Lynsey Bugg, assistant curator of mammals
Bristol Zoo's seven-week-old baby gorilla Afia, born by emergency caesarian section, goes outside for the first time in a sling worn by her keeper Lynsey Bugg

A baby gorilla born by emergency caesarean has ventured outside for the first time tucked in a sling worn by her keeper.

Afia, whose name means "Friday born child" in Ghanaian, made her debut outing on the island enclosure at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

The seven-week-old Western lowland gorilla is receiving 24-hour care by a team of four keepers as her mother, Kera, has been critically ill.

She was delivered by emergency caesarean section in February after Kera showed signs of potentially life-threatening pre-eclampsia.

This was the first time a gorilla had been born by the procedure at Bristol Zoo and one of only a handful of instances of it happening worldwide.

Afia, carried in a sling, clung on to her keeper Lynsey Bugg as she was introduced to the outside world for the first time on Wednesday.

Ms Bugg, curator of mammals at the zoo, said: "As she gets older we want her to learn all parts of the enclosure so hopefully when we can get her back in with the family she'll already have a head-start.

"This is the first step and it's a spring morning, it's a bit sunny but it's still a bit chilly so we want to keep her nice and warm but it's nice to give her some fresh air, stimulation and a change of scenery.

"To start with she was quite alert and quite interested and then I think she felt a little of the chilly wind and she tucked herself deep into my fleece and then she went to sleep.

"Our end game is to try to get her back with her family. We don't want an animal that's only living with humans - to me that's the opposite of what we're trying to do here.

"We're spending as much time with her group as possible, so she spends all day next to the gorilla family where she has access to them through mesh.

"She is with us in the corridors and in the keeper areas but she can see them, smell them and she clearly hears them.

"We're trying to nurture the bond between her and the others in the group because if we can get someone to take her as a surrogate or foster her, or even if her mum could take her back, that would obviously be what we'd love to achieve.

"At the moment we're looking to see where the most positive signs are and those will be the animals that we'll work on the most."

Since the birth, Afia's mother Kera has suffered with anaemia and has been critically ill at times.

Vets say Kera is continuing to recover well, is eating and drinking regularly and they are hopeful she will make a smooth recovery.

It is not yet known whether Kera will accept her daughter though Romina, another female gorilla, is showing strong maternal signs towards her.

Keepers are exploring the possibility of Romina fostering Afia in the future but she continues to be cared for by keepers at the moment.

Kera was unable to breastfeed so Afia is fed human formula milk every two to three hours and will be introduced to fruit and vegetables in coming months.

The gorilla, who wears a nappy, spends her days near the gorilla troop before travelling in a car seat to one of her keepers' nearby homes for overnight care.

"It's a little bit tiring," Ms Bugg said.

"There's four of us who look after her so we take it in turns to take her home during the evenings because she feeds every two to three hours.

"I'm hugely privileged to be a part of her life now and I really want to do well by her."

Afia was named after the zoo asked members of the public to vote from a shortlist of three - with more than 9,000 people having their say.

"I think it does suit her, it means Friday-born child and she was born on a Friday evening so I think it's quite appropriate," Ms Bugg said.

"It's also quite a pretty name and obviously at the moment she's a little cutie."

Afia's future trips outdoors will remain short and dependent on weather.

"It's going to be a few months before she is properly on her feet," Ms Bugg said.

"At the moment she's worked out how to roll over and how to roll back again but it's very uncoordinated.

"She's still learning how to use her hands and her feet but it will be over the next few months that she will really start to master scooting round.

"Then we can really start letting her exploring the island."

Afia is not yet on show to the public.

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