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Second time charm for gorilla mom at Lincoln Park Zoo

BanawesternlowlgorillLincoln Park Zoo cuddles her baby which zoo officials have confirmed is girl named Patty. / phofrom Lincoln Park Zoo

Bana,a westernlowland gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo, cuddles her baby, which zoo officials have confirmed is a girl and named Patty. / photo from Lincoln Park Zoo

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Updated: November 13, 2012 6:10PM

Less than a year after the tragic death of her firstborn, an endangered gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo gave birth again, to a girl, putting mom among the “top dogs” in her social circle.

On Nov. 26, 2011, a nine-day-old western lowland gorilla born at the Near North Side zoo was found dead in the arms of its mother, Bana, and zoo staff called it a “tragic turn of events.”

But on Oct. 11, the now 18-year-old Bana gave birth to her second offspring, which zoo staff confirmed Tuesday was a girl they’ve named Patty in honor of a long-time zoo patron.

“Everything is going really well, as well as should be expected,” according to Maureen Leahy, curator of primates at the lakefront zoo. “Mom and pop are doing a very good job. They’re fun to watch.”

Mom is doing such a good job that it took more than a month to determine the baby’s gender; Bana holds Patty so closely the staff could not determine gender, a behavior that is not unusual, Leahy said.

“Bana is a great mom. She is doing exactly what we hoped — tenderly cuddle, nurse and care for her baby. It is not uncommon to have a clingy, very protective mom,” she said, a behavior that will continue for several months.

“It will be some time before baby can ride on mom’s back, at least six months,” Leahy said. “They are not too dissimilar from humans in that way, but in about 6 months she can cling to the back so mom can climb and baby hitch a ride.

“It will be several more months before she starts to crawl around on all fours and explore, about a year before she can be more independent.”

Bana came to Lincoln Park in 2010 from Brookfield Zoo specifically to mate with Kwan, a 22-year-old silverback gorilla who has been the father of both of her babies.

Their first attempt seemed to go well until the baby’s sudden death. A necropsy showed the baby died of “accidental head trauma,” Leahy said.

How did it happen?

“It’s hard to speculate,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for first-time mothers to lose their baby. It happens up to 40 percent of the time in the wild, and zoo data puts it at 20-25 percent.”

As with humans, giving birth to a second child within a year is not unusual for a gorilla, Leahy said.

“Gestation is about 8 1/2 months, and they are not seasonal breeders like some other mammals. Their reproductive cycles are much like humans.”

Also like humans, having a baby can add to the social status of the mother, Leahy said.

“New moms seem to develop more social confidence, so it is not uncommon for moms with babies to elevate their social status, to be more dominant and more respected,” Leahy said. “Bana’s social status is changing. Now she is among the top dogs.”

She has also been more confident about approaching zoo staff. “She now wants to engage with the zoo’s animal behavior and cognition scientists, something she never seemed interested in before,” Leahy said.

Patty, the 51st gorilla born at Lincoln Park Zoo, was named in honor of Patty Meyers, mother of Sally Meyers Kovler and mother-in-law of Jonathan Kovler, a Lincoln Park Zoo Life Trustee, according to a statement from zoo CEO Kevin Bell.

“The Kovler family is a long-standing and exceptionally generous supporter of Lincoln Park Zoo and its animals and facilities,” the statement said.

Zoo visitors can view Bana, Patty, Kwan and the rest of their group from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

And she will be there for a while, Leahy said. Young gorillas stay close to their mother for four or five years until fully weaned, and its six or seven before they are ready to go out on their own.

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