A friend of mine sent me this article today about a gorilla in a German zoo whose infant passed away on August 16th. The devoted mother refuses to let go of her baby’s body as she is mourning this loss. Seeing this striking image is proof to me that animals have emotions. Like us, they form deep bonds with their offspring, and a loss of that magnitude affects them as it would us. Zookeepers indicate that the gorilla’s behavior is completely normal and happens all the time when an infant dies.
The other thing that struck me about this article was the very last sentence: “She [Gana, this same gorilla] had a female baby in 2007 that now lives at the Stuttgart Zoo.” It’s only August, 2008 right now. Even if Gana gave birth to her other baby in January of 2007, that still falls short of the 2.5-3 year period that mother gorillas nurse and care for their young. This bothers me. Why do we assume that it is okay to take a baby away from her mother after only a year when they are used to being together for 2 to 3 times longer? Oh yes, that’s right: because the Stuttgart Zoo needed a gorilla on display. I suppose it also could be because gorillas usually only give birth once every 4 years – probably because they are still caring for an infant – and if they took the baby away, Gana would be more likely to reproduce again. Either way, it seems to me to be all about humans, with little regard for Gana and her infants. It seems cruel and unnecessary to me, but just goes to show you how humans think they have a monopoly on emotional bonds.