Louisville Magazine

SEP 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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62 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 9.16 Photos courtesy of Louisville Zoo Before Kindi, Katka spent her days doing what she'd always wanted to do — training animals, teaching them captivity's rou- tines, like how to receive shots and open wide for dental exams. Gorillas know that when they hear the word "shift," it's time to crawl through chutes and tunnels to a different indoor or outdoor area of Gorilla Forest. Katka had even conditioned Mia Moja to tolerate the hiss and tug of a breast pump in case her milk needed to be extracted upon Kindi's arrival. As Katka sits with the groggy infant, she decides it's time for a test. She inserts her gloved index fingers into the baby's hands and lifts. e infant's long, thin arms hold strong as the keeper raises her up. Kindi's tiny rib cage — claw-like bones tinier than pinky fingers — presses out. Katka's pleased. Kindi's even stronger than she would've imagined. Infant gorillas must grip well. ey cling to their mother's fur for much of their young life. (Katka has accidentally lifted floppy-necked, floppy-limbed human infants this way. "e moms are like: Whoa, whoa!") Katka feeds Kindi a small bottle of Similac formula designed for preemies. e infant dribbles a bit as she sucks, her grape-sized cheeks popping in and out. At this point, Mia's fine, recovering from her C-section. (In the wild, a birthing complication like this would have killed mother and child.) Once alert, mother and child will be reunited, Katka thinks. On March 15 at 6:30 in the morning, Alexis Williamson arrives at the zoo. She takes the baby now wrapped in an animal-print blanket from Katka. e 19-year zoo veteran with short brown hair and a tattoo of the zoo's pygmy hippos on her right wrist sits in a rolling office chair and places another blanket — this one of black fur — over Kindi. e baby's temperature has been dipping a few degrees below the desired 98.6. A space heater hums nearby. Kindi's arrival is cause for celebration at the zoo. Western lowland gorillas — the only species of gorillas in captivity — are critically endangered. It's estimated that the gorilla population in the wild has declined by more than 60 percent over the last 20 to 25 years. About 100,000 remain in the forests and swamps of Central Africa, their lives threatened by the commercial hunting of primates for food and souvenirs, as well as the industrialization of native habitats. e Louisville Zoo is one of 51 zoos in North America that care for about 350 captive gorillas. An infant brings a whole new dynamic to Gorilla Forest, a $15-million, four-acre space that opened in 2002. ere's the part the public sees: two lush yards and three glass-encased day rooms with tree trunks and poles for climbing and jungle scenery airbrushed on walls. en there's the behind-the-scenes space that includes seven stalls with high ceilings, beige walls and skylights. is is where zookeepers log long hours caring for the zoo's 10 go- rillas, learning their quirks, like that a 46-year-old female named Demba loves baby talk. Mia's pregnancy was part of a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and its Gorilla Species Survival Plan. As the dominant female in her troop, Mia was close to Mshindi, the 350-pound male known as a silverback for the gray hair that slopes down males' backs and thighs when fully mature. Highly social animals, gorillas generally live in family troops that can reach up to 20 in the wild. Mia's group included the dominant male, Mshindi, and two other 20-something females named Paki and Kwali. Mia stopped taking the pill and fingers were crossed. (It's true, gorillas are on the pill. To help

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