'Gorilla Wake' At Zoo Allows Gorillas To Mourn 'Babs'
30-Year-Old Suffered From Kidney Failure
One by one on Tuesday, the gorillas filed into the Tropic World building where Babs' body lay, arms outstretched, in an event that primate curator Melinda Pruett Jones called a "gorilla wake." Babs' 9-year-old daughter, Bana, was the first to approach the body, followed by Babs' mother, Alpha, 43. Bana sat down, held Babs' hand with one of her own and stroked her mother's stomach. Then she sat down and laid her head on Babs' arm.
"It was like they used to do in the exhibit, lying side by side on the mountain," keeper Betty Green said. "Then Bana rose up and looked at us and moved to Babs' other side, tucked her head under the other arm, and stroked Babs' stomach." The other animals, including Binti Jua, 16, Nadaya, 3, and Koola, 9, also approached Babs and gently sniffed the body. Only the silverback male leader, Ramar, 36, stayed away.
Keepers said the display wasn't surprising, because Babs had been a beloved leader of the gorillas. "She was the dominant female of the group, the peacekeeper, the disciplinarian, the one who kept things in a harmonious state," Pruett Jones said.
Koola brought her infant daughter, whom Babs had showered with attention since her August birth. "Koola inspected Babs' mouth for a while, then held her baby close to Babs, like she loved to do the last couple months, letting Babs admire her," Green said.
The keepers decided after the 30-year-old gorilla was diagnosed last September with an incurable kidney condition that she would be euthanized if she suffered too much. Then at a workshop in Columbus, Ohio, keepers saw a videotape of a gorilla wake and decided they would do the same for Babs. "We don't know if there is any benefit to the animals for doing this or not," lead keeper Craig Demitros said. "In the wild, gorillas are known to pay respects to their dead in a similar fashion."
Babs' Death Leaves Leadership VacuumKeepers say they are curious to see who will fill the "power vacuum" created by Babs' death at Brookfield Zoo.
The group of gorillas at Brookfield Zoo spans four generations. "It's very rare to have a dominant female without someone else who was being groomed to take over," Amy Coons, a senior primate keeper, told the Daily Herald.
Coons said the heir-apparent appeared to be Baraka, Babs' oldest daughter, but she died in April from a common abdominal ailment. Brookfield's curator of primates told the paper that "the whole gorilla group knew (Babs) was dying, (but) they didn't leave her. They didn't create a coup."
Experts say the ultimate authority in gorilla society is the silverback male, according to the Daily Herald, "but he usually stays out of day-to-day operations ... and the dominant female decides where the group will go, when it will eat and how it will stick together. At 310 pounds, square-framed Babs, who was born and lived her whole life at Brookfield, was built for the job." Coons said Babs was the boss and could settle an argument just by walking up to it.
"But she was so gentle with the babies," Coons said. "She was the ultimate mother figure." Keepers say Babs' successor could be another daughter, quiet Bana, 10, or Koola, 9, who recently gave birth and "is rapidly gaining in status among the eight great apes remaining," according to the paper.
Another possibility is Babs' mother, 43-year-old Alpha, who was leader for a long time before handing the position over to Babs in the 1980s. "It may be that Alpha says, 'Oh, all right, I'll come back from retirement,'" Pruett-Jones told the paper.
In some instances, a power vacuum in gorilla communities can lead to violence, but Brookfield officials said they expect a peaceful transition after decades of peace in the group.
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