It’s been nine months since western lowland gorilla Kaius came into the world.
In that time, he’s stolen the heart of his (human) caretaker and is now preparing for a move into the care of a surrogate (gorilla) mother.
Australian Wildlife Parks managing director Chad Staples said Kaius had had a rough start to life and required hands-on care.
“He was up against it from the beginning,” he said.
“It was just like having a newborn baby.
“Kaius needed everything from me, because gorillas are very reliant on their parents and family group for a very long time, just like humans are.”
Kaius arrived in late 2022 as the first baby born to Mogo Wildlife Park’s Kipenzi.
“The birth itself went very well; his mum was a first-time mum and she did everything so well,” Mr Staples said.
“She birthed him fine, started to clean him, held him and even tried to suckle him and got that started.”
But things went awry when Kipenzi’s contractions didn’t continue, meaning she didn’t give birth to the placenta and needed emergency surgery, and Kaius’s father, Kisane, took him from his mother.
“We tried to put Kaius back with her [after the surgery] the very next morning, but she didn’t want him, and neither did his grandmother,” Mr Staples said.
“We left it for about two hours, just to see if there’d be any change – but there wasn’t, so I went and retrieved him again.
“That was when it was discovered that he was actually quite sick.”
Kaius ultimately contracted sepsis pneumonia.
To treat the illness, he needed antibiotics and was hooked up to oxygen and nasal feeding tubes.
“He then spent the best part of the next 24 hours really fighting for life,” Mr Staples said.
“There was a team of doctors and nurses that assisted, and he was in my care – it was pretty full on for that next week.”
But Kaius, who Mr Staples described as “an absolute fighter”, improved and made his recovery.
The next months were full of caring for Kaius: feeding him, keeping him clean and (of course) giving him cuddles and emotional support.
“I just had to step in and be mum,” Mr Staples said.
“Thankfully I’ve had babies, so they were great practice, and I’ve hand-raised many different species. I was as equipped as I could possibly be, though nothing prepares you for it.”
To reduce the chance of separation anxiety, Mr Staples said other zookeepers had been taking on more and more of Kaius’s care so he would become used to other people.
“We were always aiming for [the move to happen] around the nine-month mark, but we’re right on top of it,” he said.
“I think it’s fast approaching, but we’re dictated to by the gorillas!
“They tell you in their own way when it’s time, so any date that we have set is only written in pencil.”
While looking after Kaius left his carer with sleepless nights, Mr Staples said he was proud to see him grow.
“It is like you’re a proud parent,” he said.
“Every little milestone he hits is another victory.”
He and his team are preparing to move Kaius into an enclosure with a surrogate gorilla mother by having them spend time together.
“We’re just getting really wonderful signs from both of them that this is going to go well.”
Mr Staples said breeding programs in zoos were important avenues for educating the public about animals and kept genetics strong in animal populations.
“The species is very significant to us and we want to see gorillas thrive in captivity and in the wild,” he said.
“Planning for Kaius’s birth had been years in the making, so it was the combination of a lot of planning and a lot of work.”
Updates on Kaius’s condition, along with Mr Staples’ work with other animals, can be found on Zookeeper Chad’s Facebook page.