The human surrogates — who dress in furry vests and black clothing — have been rotating shifts feeding the gorilla, holding her up to their chest and carrying her on their back like a real gorilla mother.
Even though Gladys has moved to her outdoor home, the surrogates' jobs are not over yet. The human surrogates will spend time with her in the outdoor exhibit as part of Phase III of her "gorillafication." Surrogates will allow her to explore all areas of the outdoor yard, climbing trees and ducking into caves, to ensure Gladys is familiar with the yard and comfortable when she goes outdoors with her gorilla surrogate in the near future.
Using human surrogates as gorilla moms is a first for the Cincinnati Zoo, but it has been done several times across the country, said Cincinnati Zoo Primate Team Leader Ron Evans. The Columbus Zoo created the surrogate style being used with Gladys, but zoos across the country have worked together to determine the best way to care for the large animals, he added.
"They're so high profile and they require so much behavior management and detail that we all have to pull our resources to make sure we're doing the best we can for the animals," Evans said.
Gladys was born on Jan. 29 at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where she was hand-reared by zookeepers because her mother displayed a lack of maternal care, according to a press release. Her mother, 14-year-old Kiazi, is on a breeding loan transfer from the Cincinnati Zoo.
The baby gorilla was named Gladys Stones as a way to pay homage to the animal's former home. She was also given the name "Stones" after the Stones family who cared for her before her arrival in the Tri-State.