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    The last of five wireless microphones has been clipped onto Jill Katka’s collar. She stands before five news cameras. Katka, the assistant mammal curator at the Louisville Zoo, has a happy ending to share with a gaggle of reporters, albeit not the one she expected. Kindi, an orphaned infant gorilla, has a surrogate gorilla mom — Kweli. Behind Katka, in a glass-encased faux jungle, Kindi clings to Kweli’s fur as Kweli gathers escarole for the two to munch on. 

    In September, Louisville Magazine chronicled Kindi’s first four months at great length in “Keeping Kindi.” A recap: Mia Moja, Kindi’s mother, died from a blood clot one day after delivering the infant. Nine zookeepers stepped into the role of gorilla mom, even wearing a shared black fur vest as they cared for her around the clock, the goal being that at about four months old an adult female gorilla would show interest in Kindi and want to adopt her.

    At first, a 27-year-old named Paki showed the greatest interest in caring for Kindi, often stroking her head through steel mesh and purring at her. But when the introduction was made, Paki had second thoughts. Katka recalls Paki’s reaction as, “Yeah, I like children. I just don’t want to adopt one.” She was gentle with Kindi but would often walk off, leaving her unattended. “I wasn’t sleeping,” Katka says of the days following the introduction in August.

    After a week, keepers regrouped Paki with Mshindi, Kindi’s dad, and introduced Kweli to Kindi. After several minutes, maybe an hour — “It felt like forever,” Katka says — Kweli scooped the baby up. “It was the most natural thing ever,” the curator recalls. Kweli has raised three sons before. (Paki has not reared an infant successfully.) So keepers believe the bond will stick.

    Now comes the tricky part. Kindi was born into a family troop that included Mshindi, Kweli and Paki. The family may never fully reunite. Paki is the dominant female. Since Kweli has taken over as mom, that could cause friction in the group. Add to that, Paki and Mshindi are “super tight,” says Katka. Separating them would be far too traumatic. So for the near future, a steel mesh door will separate the family. They can smell and see each other, even poke fingers through for a hello. “Everyone seems to be all good with that,” Katka says.

    Had Kweli not adopted Kindi, the zoo would have been forced to find a surrogate mom at a different zoo. But on this day, three of the keepers watch proudly as cameramen pace around the gorilla sanctuary trying to grab good angles of Kindi. She crawls toward a sliver of sun sparkle, a natural in a spotlight. “Look at her in that little ray of sunshine,” one of the keepers says, grinning.

    Read Louisville Magazine's original story on Kindi here.

    This originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here.

    Cover image courtesy of the Louisville Zoo

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