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Injured Baby Gorilla Nayembi Might Not Rejoin Mother, Troop at Zoo

By Paul Biasco | March 1, 2013 12:21pm | Updated on March 1, 2013 3:32pm

LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Park Zoo officials are unsure whether 3-month-old gorilla Nayembi, who suffered serious facial injuries last week, will ever be able to rejoin her mother and the rest of her gorilla troop at the zoo.

Nayembi, a Western lowland gorilla, is recovering from a major facial cut and significant injuries in bones in her upper jaw at the zoo's C.H. “Doc” Searle M.D. Animal Hospital.

"We are going to provide as much social situation as we can right now, but obviously we want her to have as much social interaction with gorillas so she can be an appropriately acting gorilla later on in life," said Megan Ross, the zoo's vice president of animal care. "We are just going to have to see how this goes, specifically with her mom and her, and figure out what the best game plan is."

Zoo officials said Nayembi won't be fully recovered for weeks, if not months, and the hope is she can one day rejoin a gorilla troop, even if it is not with her mother, Rollie, and father, Kwan.

"If we need to, we can hand-rear her," Ross said.

Zookeepers were alerted to Nayembi's injury about 9:30 a.m. Feb. 20 when they heard a yell inside the Regenstein Center for African Apes, but it is still unclear how Nayembi was hurt.

Rollie was holding her injured baby tightly and brought her into a holding area underneath the exhibit, where staffers had to sedate her to free Nayembi from her arms.

"The baby did have to go into surgery immediately," said Kathryn Gamble, Lincoln Park Zoo's Lester E. Fisher Director of veterinary medicine. "The wounds were substantial, and of course, she was shocking because of the degree of the injury."

Nayembi underwent a four-hour surgery and remained at the hospital at the zoo for the first several days in critical care, but as of Friday, she was playing for about four or five hours a day with her caretakers and was recovering well.

"Right now she is healing exactly as expected," Gamble said Friday morning. "We had a procedure yesterday to re-evaluate and clean the area and make sure the wound is healing as expected, and it is."

Zoo officials expect Nayembi will have to undergo more surgeries as she grows.

"It was a very significant injury, particularly, if you can imagine, for a very small infant," Gamble said. "She only weighs about 6 or 7 pounds, so it was a fairly impressive injury for her face."

Nayembi's mother, Rollie, remains with her troop inside the exhibit and has been acting normally, Ross said. She has been sticking closely with the other new mother of the troop, Bana, and her baby Patty.