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Western lowland gorilla born at Milwaukee County Zoo

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Milwaukee County Zoo announced on Thursday, March 27th, the birth of a western lowland gorilla. It was born on March 19th.  The baby, named Kassiu, was born to 13-year-old mother, Naku, and 27-year-old father, Cassius.

This is the first offspring of both Naku and Cassius, and animal care staff report mother and baby are doing well. They’re fairly certain the infant is a female.  The last gorilla birth at the Zoo was in 1996.

"This is every gorilla keeper`s dream, to be able to experience a new baby and watch all the behaviors that instinctively come to mom to take care of her new baby," Gorilla Keeper Claire Richard said.

Female gorillas give birth to one infant after a pregnancy of nearly nine months.

Unlike their powerful parents, newborns are tiny – weighing about four pounds – and able only to cling to their mother’s hair. These infants ride on their mothers’ backs from the age of four months through the first two or three years of their lives.

On Thursday, March 27th, as Kassiu was being shown off to the media, Naku embraced the new baby, and nearby, the baby's father kept an eye on visitors and other gorillas.

"Dad has to be the protector. That`s his main role. He has to make sure his family stays safe and if the crowd gets too loud -- he`s going to move himself in between the public and the mom and the baby," Curator of Primates, Jan Rafert said.

Those who visited the Zoo on Thursday were excited to witness such a rare debut.

"I think it`s very important because you don`t get to see this every day, you know what I`m saying? How often do you come to the Zoo when it`s a baby gorilla or any animal just born?" teacher Christina Wren said.

Wren brought a group of first-graders to the Zoo on Thursday.

Zoo officials say they'll be watching the family closely -- making sure the baby is healthy and can handle all the attention.

"For the most part, we`re going to try and have them out as much as possible, but we can`t guarantee on any given day when you come to the Zoo that the family will be available for viewing," Richard said.

Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in the wild, but are more common than their relatives, the mountain gorillas.

Scientists estimate that between five and 15,000 lowland gorillas remain in their natural home -- the rainforest in West Central Africa.

Kassiu will stay at the Milwaukee County Zoo for at least another eight or nine years. When she's able to give birth, officials will determine whether it's best for her to stay or breed in another Zoo.

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