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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Not quite the king of the swingers yet... Baby gorilla Kukena takes his first tentative (very wobbly) steps under mum's watchful eye

By Tom Gardner

Finding his feet: Little seven-month-old Kukena ventures away from his mother's side for the first time at Bristol Zoo since birth

Every mother knows there's a time when you have to let go and watch your children make their own way in life.

And it seems there's nothing different in the animal kingdom, as western lowland gorilla Salome keeps a watchful maternal eye on her seven-month-old son Kukena who leaves her side for the first time since birth.

The little primate summoned the courage to go off and explore his enclosure in Bristol Zoo.

Watchful gaze: Mother Salome keeps a cautious eye on the newly intrepid Kukena as he explores Bristol Zoo

Although still very wobbly, Kukena managed to pull himself up on to his back legs and can walked on all fours.

Mammal keeper Alan Toyne said: 'Kukena is making fantastic progress and is developing well.

'It’s great to see him starting to walk and becoming more independent, although he will be reliant on mum for a long while yet.

'He is getting more and more active but still stays very close to Salome who is still very protective, particularly when the other gorillas are around.

'She will let him venture a few metres away from her when they are alone, but keeps him much closer when the other young gorillas are around as they tend to like a bit of rough and tumble.'

Exploration: Kukena, a baby western lowland gorilla, is keen to take a look around his enclosure and can pull himself up onto his back legs and take wobbly steps on all fours under the watchful eye of his mum, Salome

Scampering off: Kukena seems to have got a taste for adventure after leaving his mother's side for the first time - but she's still close enough to keep an eye on the youngster as he wanders around his pen at Bristol Zoo

Maternal: Salome looks a little perturbed by her son's new found sense of adventure as she huddles in the corner of her pen while Kukena wanders off for the first time

As well as getting physically stronger, Kukena is also starting to nibble on soft foods such as banana in addition to drinking Salome’s milk, which he will continue to take until he is around three years old.

As well as Salome and Kukena, Bristol Zoo’s Gorilla Island is also home to silverback Jock, who is father to Kukena; Namoki, six; Komale, five; Kera, seven; and Romina, the zoo’s other adult female gorilla.

The name Kukena means 'to love” and comes from the language of the Lunda Tribe from north west Zambia.

The tribe originates from the Congo, where western lowland gorillas are found in the wild.

Kukena was born on September 27, 2011, by natural birth to Salome - her third baby at Bristol Zoo.

Growing up: Although still very wobbly, the western lowland gorilla pulled himself up on to his back legs and walked on all fours, under the watchful eye of his mother, Salome

Tentative steps: Little Kukena is still tiny and has not left his mother's side in the seven months since he was born at Bristol Zoo so his first steps were a big achievement

Her last baby, Komale, was born in December 2006 following a course of groundbreaking fertility treatment, pioneered by the zoo’s former head vet, Sharon Redrobe.

This time however, Salome conceived her baby naturally.

The gorillas at Bristol Zoo are part of an international conservation breeding programme for the western lowland gorilla, which is a critically endangered species.

All gorilla species are facing serious losses in the wild caused by a number of issues including forest destruction for logging, diseases such as ebola and the slaughter of primates for the illegal bushmeat trade.

New experience: Bristol Zoo's baby gorilla Kukena holds onto his mother's arm as he ventures out of his enclosure at Bristol Zoo's Gorilla Island

Time for tea: All that exploring made the pair hungry - Kukena is Salome's third baby at the zoo



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