Researchers in the Republic of Congo have captured rare – and incredibly adorable – footage of a western lowland gorilla mother lovingly doting on her newborn baby.
Much like you might see a human mother sneaking peaks at her sleeping newborn, the gorilla, known as Mekome, is seen affectionately glancing at her infant while breastfeeding. Born on February 17, the unnamed baby was barely a week old at the time of filming, according to the scientists who shot the footage. Weighing less than 2.5 kilograms (5 pounds) at birth, defenseless gorilla babies spend the first three months of life snuggled up in their mother’s arms and the next three years clinging to their mom’s back.
The baby’s daddy is a 40-year-old silver-haired gorilla named Kingo Ya Bole, which means “The Loud Voice”. Kingo’s group has been observed by researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Mondika Research Center, located in the rainforests of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, for decades.
Mekome is no stranger to motherhood. Female gorillas give birth to one infant about every four years, and the newborn is her fifth. But the chances of this young gorilla surviving to adulthood are pretty low – only one of her offspring is alive today.
Members of the Mondika Gorilla Project team are hopeful that Mekome’s newest baby will remain strong and healthy and help to sustain and grow this population of gorillas in the face of ongoing threats. In 2008, the western lowland gorilla was listed as critically endangered due to dangers like poaching, disease, and habitat loss. Despite their abundance and wide geographic range, the population has declined by more than 80 percent in the last 60 years.
Both parents have been observed by WCS for decades. Researchers say long-term observation – like the 20 years spent following Kingo – help them to monitor the gorillas over time.
Founded in 1995, the Mondika Gorilla Project is located in a former logging area that has since been set aside for conservation. Gorilla groups are monitored every day using mobile data-collection devices. They hope their work will bring a better understanding of the landscape’s rich wildlife and help support more effective protection and management.
For this gorilla family, the arrival of a baby brings good news.
“We’re very excited to be witness to the emergence of the next generation of Kingo’s growing clan,” said Mark Gately, Director of WCS’s Republic of Congo Program, in a statement. “A baby gorilla represents hope for the entire species.”