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article imageBritish woman nurses baby gorilla back to health in her lounge

By JohnThomas Didymus     Nov 19, 2011 in World
Leicester - A British woman who is a zoo specialist vet, Sarah Chapman, 34, took full-time care of a baby gorilla from Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire after it became ill and emaciated. She nursed the baby gorilla called Okanda back to health in her lounge.
Daily Mail reports that Sarah Chapman had been working at the zoo for only six weeks when it was noticed that the baby gorilla born in April was ill with an upset stomach and was growing severely emaciated. Chapman was worried about the animal because, according to her, "Primates tend not to show symptoms of illness unless they are very sick because they can’t show vulnerability in the wild."
When the baby gorilla's illness became worse, it was separated from its family by sedating its mother who would not let him go. After tests and brief treatment, the baby was returned to its mother Ozala, but its condition grew worse. The zoo vets soon realized, as Sarah Chapman explains, that "the quality of Ozala’s milk wasn’t good enough so Okanda wasn’t getting the nutrients he needed. If we had kept him with his mum, he would have died."
Baby Okanda was once again separated from his family which included his mother Ozala, silverback father Oumbi, and an aunty called Asante. Sarah decided to take over care of baby Okanda. She called her husband Julian, who had worked for 18 years as a keeper at Paignton Zoo in Devon, and told him:
“Are you sitting down? I’m bringing a baby gorilla home."
Julian made no fuss over the news and after buying nappies and baby swipes, Sarah took Okanda home with towels, blankets, drugs, stethoscopes and other necessary medical equipment. She had to shut her dogs, Paddy and Willow, in the kitchen to keep them from passing infections to the gorilla and converted her lounge into a nursing room for it, with a play mat and cuddly toys.
Okanda arrived very sick with diarrhea, and was given a course of antibiotics. The lounge had to be kept warm all the time because Okanda's temperature was very low. Okanda loves nibbling on things including people, so Sarah had to dress up in thick jumpers and jeans to protect herself.
Sarah Chapman had worked with gorillas in the past. She knows some gorilla language and gestures too. And that was lucky for Okanda because, as Sarah Chapman explains, it was necessary to make sure that Okanda does not pick up some human habits and behavior while under her care, otherwise he could be rejected by his family after recovery.
And from where did Chapman acquire gorilla culture? She explains to Daily Mail:
"You end up picking it up when you spend time with them in zoos and in Africa, where I’ve been to study them in the wild."
So, communicating with Okanda in the gorilla way (mostly varieties in tone and pitch of grunts and throaty grumbles), she slowly, but steadily nursed the Okanda back to health, bottle-feeding him baby formula milk.
But during the first few day, Okanda deteriorated and a medical team had to join Chapman in her lounge and convert the lounge temporarily into an animal hospital. When Okanda refused to feed, a feeding tube was pushed up his nose and down into his stomach.
But soon Okanda began improving, and as he got stronger, Chapman began facing the challenge of handling a strong hyperactive gorilla toddler. Changing nappies for an active Okanda was the most challenging aspect of the job. Sarah says:
"I ended up getting advice from a gorilla expert at Bristol Zoo, who told me to change him backwards while holding him to my chest, which is actually much easier than it sounds."
Sarah says in the 11 days she took care of Okanda in her lounge she did not set foot outside the house because she had to keep constant watch on him. As he got better, his diet became more varied, nibbling on red pepper, cucumber, tomato and other not-so nutritious things as the coffee table, and paper.
After Okanda recovered he was moved first into the zoo bungalow and then slowly re-integrated back into his family, first with short visits to be sure they'd be willing to accept him back after a sudden separation.
Now that Okanda is in good health, Sarah expresses feelings of a proud parent:
"Seeing him now makes me realise how thin and ill he was before...It’s been fantastic to see him improve, but it feels strange not to have him with me any more. I’ve only just stopped dreaming about him and feeling there’s something missing, but getting him back with his family was always the aim."
And why was Sarah so concerned about nursing the baby gorilla back to health? She explains:
"The breeding and conservation of these animals is so important. There are only 100,000 Western lowland gorillas in the wild, so he is precious."
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