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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 9.16 61 Keeping Kindi Kindi is a hit. Crowds teeter on tiptoes and slither between wagons and strollers to catch a glimpse. When she's on exhibit at the Louisville Zoo, in one of the rooms showcasing gorillas behind soundproof, gorilla-proof glass, the climate changes. Four fans spinning from the vaulted ceiling can't keep up. Air grows starchy, a few degrees hotter, perhaps from all the exclamations — "She's so cute!" "Look at her!" "Jayden, turn around and smile!" Pressed noses and sticky hands leave a fickle, evolving constellation of steam and smudges on the window separating Kindi from the frantic bustle of passing, sweaty humans. Her round brown eyes startle, each one as bright and hopeful as a pot of gold. Underneath a tuft of black fuzz, Kindi's wrinkled brow looks both brand new and geriatric. By mid-summer, her gangly limbs can pull her body onto a black produce crate, her long toes and fingers curling and uncurling as she grips. Once on top of the crate, she will wobble and fall backwards — "Aw- wwwww!" She loves to flip upside down, just as her mother Mia Moja did. If you're lucky, you might witness a smile and a laugh, a breathy — ah, ah, ah — only the keepers sitting with her can hear. Inevitably, every few minutes someone asks. Where's the mother? Kindi doesn't live with the zoo's other gorillas. She's cuddling and playing with keepers, a rotating team of eight women and one man who are the stand-in moms, actor moms, costumed in a black fur vest on loan from the Cincinnati Zoo. "e mom" — (pause) — "died," the zoo docents in yellow shirts — here specifically to educate and control Kindi crowds — will begin. Died. at word always comes in a solemn, low octave. Kindi was born on March 14, 2016. Mia Moja would've turned 27 four days later. But the day after delivering Kindi through an emergency C-section, she unexpectedly passed away. "Does the daddy take care of it?" some kids will ask. No, female gorillas raise the babies. "So the keepers just sit there with her?" Keepers are temporarily hand-raising Kindi, doing their best to imitate a gorilla mom, which means somebody is with her 24 hours a day. When a sound frightens her and she stiffens, burying her face into the fur vest, keepers offer a low, rumbling purr — mmmmm — part soft growl, part idle car to reassure her, just like a gorilla mom. "We are just a different kind of gorilla," one of the Louisville zookeepers mother an orphaned infant gorilla and fall madly in love. But Kindi must grow up among her own. By Anne Marshall keepers likes to say. By five months, the hope is, a female gorilla will be drawn to Kindi and want to raise her as her own. It sounds simple. Zoos successfully place orphaned gorillas with surrogates all the time. Staff at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio have done it so well so often they've assembled a 150-page manual on surrogacy and hand-rearing, which Kindi's keepers have read. But even intelligent primates, animals that share 98 percent of our human DNA, don't always fulfill expectations. What if a female gorilla doesn't want her? What if gorillas act aggressively towards her? Jill Katka, assistant curator of Gorilla Forest at the Louisville Zoo, has one goal — keep Kindi here. "But if none of our gorillas want to be a surrogate, we have to send her someplace else," Katka explains, the thought bringing tears to her clear blue eyes. Humans love Kindi. Lactating mothers have offered the zoo their breast milk. Pre-schoolers doodle Kindi drawings and beg docents to let them pet her. One of Kindi's keepers had a picture of the infant gorilla tattooed on the inside of her left wrist. Katka's phone totals 861 Kindi photos by mid-summer — Kindi sucking on a spindly finger shortly after birth; drowsy Kindi drinking her first bottle, right eye shut, left one barely managing; Kindi sticking the tip of her pink tongue out. But humans cannot give Kindi all that she needs. Kindi is born at 12:35 on the afternoon of March 14. Two hours later, Jill Katka pulls on white latex gloves and a blue surgical mask. She's the first keeper to hold her. Katka wraps the bony little thing in a pink blanket. e baby, asleep with legs scrunched to her torso, could fit in Katka's hand and looks puny in the crook of her arm. Kindi's premature by a few weeks, but at 14 inches long and 3 pounds, 9 ounces she's still about average. Pinkish skin sags along her elbows, stretches over her belly and creates bald patches behind her ears and down her soft shoulders. Holding this baby, Katka is made for this. As a four-year- old, she'd groom herself like the family cat. One of her earliest memories from her childhood in Wisconsin is finding a nest of bunnies and convincing herself their mother had abandoned them. She can still hear her father yelling upon discovering the creatures in her closet: "Put those bunnies back!" e 44-year-old, whose long, light-brown hair lives in a ponytail, has a master's in psychology and spent years studying animal behavior. No mystery to the passion of Jill Katka. "We are just a different kind of gorilla," one of the keepers likes to say.