Mogo Wildlife Park director Chad Staples watched on like a proud parent on the first day of school as the young gorilla he has hand-raised for 11 months was finally reintroduced to his primate family.
Mr Staples became the surrogate father of Kaius the gorilla after complications with the mother at birth at the wildlife park in south-east NSW. Neonatal caregivers, nurses, midwives, and doctors were rushed in to save Kaius after the young gorilla developed sepsis pneumonia just hours after being born. Kaius moved into Mr Staples’ bedroom while on life support, and the pair were inseparable for the next seven months.
“It’s been stressful, rewarding, amazing, it was all encompassing. He absolutely took over my life,” Mr Staples said.
The wildlife director, who has previously hand-raised a young lion cub, became a fill-in parent, bottle-feeding Kaius every two hours and changing his nappies.
Mr Staples said this process was more difficult than with human toddlers because Kaius used his hands and feet to pull off the nappy.
Together they ticked off important milestones like progressing to solid food and learning to crawl, then walk, then climb.
Mr Staples spent less time with Kaius as the reunion day approached, hoping his little primate friend would quickly bond with new carer Aunty G-anne.
Kaius’s mother Kipensi had not shown much interest in her offspring since the traumatic birth and Mr Staples said the decision was made that reintroducing the young gorilla to a different female adult was the safest alternative.
The two gorillas have become acquaintances through their neighbouring cages over the past few months.
Nervous family reunion
The door was finally opened and Kaius graduated into the troop on August 23.
“From the moment we started raising him, this was one of the big goals,” Mr Staples said.
“What was always going to be unsure was what sort of role [G-anne] would want to play for Kaius.
“It’s out of your hands, it’s edge-of-your-seat stuff when it happens.
“You’re nervous and excited and scared and happy and sad all blended into one.” To Mr Staples’ relief, G-anne moved towards Kaius to initiate first contact.
Mr Staples said the two gorillas were responding well to each other and building strong connections. Kaius will continue to be supplement-fed by keepers via a bottle through the fence as required but will live among the family troop and hopefully rely less and less on external support.
“To get him to this point, it certainly makes me smile,” Mr Staples said.
“I’ve given him my life; I wouldn’t change a thing.”