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Here's how the Cincinnati Zoo plans to bring Ndume the gorilla home

Posted at 12:58 PM, Mar 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 12:58:10-05

CINCINNATI — A deal has been reaching to bring Ndume the gorilla back to Cincinnati, pending a judge's approval.

A federal judge in California ruled last month that The Gorilla Foundation must return Ndume to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. The zoo had loaned him to the foundation to be a companion to Koko, the gorilla whom researchers said had learned sign language. Ndume has been away from other gorillas since Koko died last June, but the foundation resisted sending him back to the zoo, saying the trip would be unnecessarily dangerous.

A 10-page transfer plan filed in court this week details how the foundation and zoo plan to bring Ndume back to Cincinnati and help him acclimate to his new surroundings and to living with other gorillas again. They set a target date if May 13 for the transfer, if all goes well.

"We look forward to working with TGF personnel over the next few months to prepare Ndume for a safe and successful transfer," zoo spokeswoman Michelle Curley said.

According to the plan, The Gorilla Foundation will hand over all of Ndume's medical records, dietary information, a list of supplements he receives and training plans and records he is receiving or has received in the past.

Representatives from the zoo will visit The Gorilla Foundation the week of March 18 to observe Ndume, discuss his care and coordinate with the foundation to perform a medical evaluation including an awake cardiac ultrasound. They will then work on training Ndume to feel comfortable in a crate by feeding him his favorite foods and gradually increasing the amount of time he spends inside.

If all goes well, on the transfer day Ndume will be locked into his crate, lifted onto a truck with a crane and driven to the airport. Foundation and zoo personnel will stay with his crate and ride with Ndume on the plane to Cincinnati and give him anesthesia before takeoff on a DHL 737-300 freighter. The zoo has worked with DHL on at least 11 other ape transfers and transfers of other large species. More zoo personnel will meet them after landing and bring Ndume to the zoo and secure his crate in a special part of the zoo's gorilla bedroom suites.

One caretaker from The Gorilla Foundation will be able to stay for two months to help Ndume acclimate to the zoo.

Ndume will be quarantined from the zoo's other gorillas for between a month and 45 days to allow him to get comfortable with the setting, staff and routines. An outdoor space away from visitors will be available for him.

Once Ndume is out of quarantine, he'll be introduced to the rest of the gorilla bedroom areas and outdoor habitat. He will be eased into socializing with two 24-year-old female gorillas who are on birth control. Ndume won't be exposed to other silverbacks or their families "until he has made significant progress with his integration."

Going forward, caregivers from The Gorilla Foundation will be able to visit Ndume twice a year. If the zoo eventually decides to euthanize Ndume at the end of his life, the zoo will notify the foundation in advance so their caregivers can be present, if possible.