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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 9.16 65 tles through mesh, the tip plunging neatly through a square. Baby gorillas nurse for three years. Once Kindi goes to a surrogate, a keeper will feed her bottles from the other side of the barrier. Twelve weeks: A first tooth pops from her lower gum. As more come in, keepers must bark when she bites. Her family won't tolerate it. She's got to learn that now. Kindi loves to yank hair, transforming keepers' heads into tumbleweeds. ey call it "hair by Kindi." Fourteen weeks: Kindi awkwardly scoots about. She's gaining a bit of independence, often keeping one hand on the fur vest but sometimes swinging one side away, flopping her head back for a look at the topsy-turvy world. With Mia's death, the Louisville Zoo has four adult female gorillas left. Keepers lovingly refer to two — Helen and Demba — as "the old ladies." Helen's one of the last gorillas in captivity captured as an infant in Cameroon, Africa, back in 1958. She's pensive with graying sideburns. At first, she shows interest in Kindi. (And the biology is there. She's her great-great- grandmother.) But she's too old. Demba, her roommate, strikes a grumpy mood often. Save two old ladies and a little baby for a Pixar tale. at leaves Kwali and Paki as possible surrogates. By early summer, Kwali is considered the back-up surrogate. She has raised three babies. But after Paki inhaled that pink towel, she seems smitten. Gorilla's choice. e 220-pound, 27-year-old born at the Bronx Zoo is relatively easy to pick out in Gorilla Forest. She likes to suck her finger and sit on a red blanket. Paki often walks and stands upright, parading her potbelly, perhaps a behavior she picked up when humans raised her as a baby. When Kindi is on the other side of the mesh, Paki leans her shoulder in, black fur jutting through the grid of squares. Beneath her heavy brow, what looks like a tender gaze often settles on Kin- di. She'll caress the baby's neck. Sometimes when Kindi frightens and whimpers — hoo hooo hoo — it is Paki who will try to purr at her. Mmmmm. Kindi's playful. Paki is too. She's known to tickle Mshindi's toes, trying to engage the serious silverback in games. "Paki needs to take that baby" is the unanimous sentiment among keepers. Katka thinks staff will introduce Paki to Kindi without mesh separation in mid-August. Wait any longer and Kindi might grow too attached to humans. A game plan is formed, rehearsed. In a back stall with two exits, someone will call Kindi to the mesh for a bottle. As she eats, the keeper wearing the fur vest will slip away. A wheel will crank, a door allowing Paki in will rise. Applesauce and sunflower seeds for foraging will have been scattered about, tempting Paki in. It will be morning, a calm time, just the radio probably tuned to the lite rock of 106.9, the preferred white noise of Gorilla Forest. Paki may scoop up Kindi immediately. It may take her awhile. Slowly, over several days or weeks, the rest of the family will join Paki and Kindi. Page 92 of the manual: "Once the silverback and all group members are spending 24 hours a day together, the introduction is considered complete." Mshindi has shown no aggression toward Kindi. e muscular 28-year-old, who shares the dimensions of a loveseat when lying on his side, has poked fingers through mesh to pet her. One keep- er swears he kissed Kindi's fingers. He's offered her pieces of straw. e Kindi Care Team, as they're known, is feeling confident. Still, anxieties will spike on introduction day. Any and all animal introductions can end emotionally, maybe violently. Seeing that nine-pounder suddenly with giant gorillas, that's intense. ("It will either be a beautiful, perfect experience or it will be scary," one of the docents says to a talkative visitor who seems sincere and worried.) e Columbus Zoo shared with Louisville keepers a volatile incident there involving a baby reunited with her mother who had to heal from a C-section. Upon seeing the infant, the mother batted it like a plaything. e infant shrieked, terrified. e two were instantly separated. Lombardi, the hand-rearing expert at the Columbus Zoo, says keepers kept calm, acting on cues from the baby's grandmother. e grandmother seemed to want to nurture the young one. She was angry with the mother. Within minutes, the grandmother was let in. Mmmmm. "e infant was like, oh, you're different," Lombardi recalls. "e grandmother patted and touched her. It was like it was her baby from day one." It's a muggy ursday afternoon in early August. Kindi is on exhibit, delighting the masses as she tumbles in a cardboard citrus box and chews on a fire hose with her eight new teeth. Kindi's crawl, more robotic than flowing at this stage, leads her to a Tupperware bin full of bananas and cucumbers. She pounds it, tipping it over. Onions are her favorite. Paki slides down a pole and presses against the mesh to watch the little one. She sucks a finger, pokes it through for a tickle and leans down to nuzzle Kindi's head on her brawny shoulder. Katka, on exhibit with Kindi, is as natural a gorilla mom as any human can be. She keeps her eyes squinted, diverted from the madness of spastic kids slapping at the glass. Her mouth is caught between a smile and a straight line, like bliss wants to hatch. But there is a job to do. So focused, those squinted eyes. She crawls like a gorilla, nests hay like a gorilla getting ready to sleep. She picks a leaf of kale. Ummm-ummm-ummm. If her back is to the mesh, she tries to sense when Paki is creeping up, a feeling similar to someone walking up to an office cubicle. While one keeper describes being on exhibit as a "little like a fish bowl," Katka likes to think of it as a private world, a place no one can parachute into. ose just a few feet away blocked by a pane of glass can't even eavesdrop. So many noises back here — the chewing of celery, the flirtatious calls between one of the bachelors and Kwali, Mshindi's subsequent barks to step off. ere's soft music from the radio and there's all that gas. Gorillas eat a lot of roughage, so they're not polite company. When on exhibit for an hour or two at a time, Katka's mind never strays far from her private world, but it does linger at the glass. Her thoughts: I know there's a docent out there interpreting. But do the people out there understand what they see? "We have this critically endangered animal that we need to get back with her species and a lot of times people think it's about us — oh, I would like to be in there, aren't you lucky, I'm going to become a vet tech so I can sit with a cute baby gorilla all day," she says. "Once we open the gate and introduce her to Paki, we're not taking her from Paki. The goal is to never step back in. Take the vest off, send it back to Cincinnati. We don't need it anymore." Continued on page 102