Fostering Finyezi: Western Lowland Gorilla Bonds with Surrogate Mom

Finyezi, born June 15, 2018, is nearing his first birthday – a year that has been complete with many milestones met!

Shortly after Fin’s birth in June 2018, it was observed that his mother, Njole, was not providing maternal care for him. Following this observation, his caretaker’s made the decision to hand raise him behind-the-scenes - a rewarding job that ‘took a village’.

Gorilla Finyezi (Fin)

Because gorillas are very social and complex animals, it was important for Fin to one day integrate back into his family troop. As he continued to grow, Fin spent a lot of time near his curious troop members. While not sharing physical space, Fin’s interactions with the troop helped his care team to identify who could look after Fin in the future.

As Fin grew older and became more independent, it was determined that 34-year-old, Emily, could become a good surrogate mom for him. To prepare, his care team spent time ensuring that Fin was ready for the transition by providing him with the opportunity to explore the space he would share with Emily. Once it was concluded that Fin could safely navigate the space, introductions with Emily began.

Surrogate gorillas are rare, and every one is a unique relationship. Though building a bond between surrogate mother and fostered offspring can take time, it was essential for Fin to be cared for by another gorilla. Through this developing relationship, Fin has learned many things about being a gorilla, and Emily has continued to teach him well. 

In the weeks following their initial introduction, Fin began to view Emily as his mom. Emily’s presence and care helped Fin to build confidence in himself. During their time together, the delightful duo eats, plays and nests together.

Once the two became comfortable with one another, their care team’s next steps were to begin introducing Emily and Fin to the rest of the family troop.

During the initial stages of the introductions, the troop was provided with constant access to see, smell and hear Emily and Fin. After this proved successful, his care team has begun encouraging members of the troop to share space with Emily and Fin for short periods of time. It is their goal for Emily and Fin to rejoin the troop once they feel comfortable. While this process it going well, there is not a defined timeline for when this integration will occur, as this will be determined by Emily and Fin themselves. 

As he continues to grow, Fin’s care team is excited to watch him explore and interact with his family in the near future.

Kim Leser

-Kim Leser, curator of behavioral husbandry and welfare

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