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Take a walk on the wild side and celebrate the mothers at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Posted at 10:05 AM, May 06, 2022

CLEVELAND — We know motherhood can be wild at times. So, in honor of Mother's Day, we're taking a walk on the wild side and learning about some of the amazing moms at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

They are the cutest and cuddliest pairs at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; adored by visitors and each other.

Like Mackenzie and her Koen, who just turned one in April.

"The koala mom is probably the most patient," said Jen DeGroot, associate animal curator.

After about a month of gestation, DeGroot says the Koala mom's jelly-bean-sized baby is born and quickly crawls up into her pouch, which unlike other marsupials opens from the bottom.

DeGroot says it's an older adaptation from when Koalas were more ground-dwelling as opposed to now living up in trees today.

She says the koala baby then nurses in mom's pouch and grows for about 7 months before emerging and clinging on tightly to mom.

"And at this stage, at about one year old, the joey will start to become a little more independent," said DeGroot. "So, you'll actually see him start to crawl off on his own and explore the habitat. He'll start eating eucalyptus on his own more. He's not nursing anymore or very rarely."

Another adorable little cling-on at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is Zaki, 1, and his mom Kera.

"I think they're the stellar moms of the great ape world," said Tad Schoffner, animal curator.

He said orangutans primarily live alone.

"They're raising their babies by themselves and because of that the babies stay with them longer," he said. "Their total concentration is on that kid. It's a total devotion to mothering."

Zaki is Kera's second child.

"She's letting Zaki be more independent than she did Merah, and he's taking full advantage of that," said Schoffner. "He's quite an independent little guy! So, we're seeing a difference in her experience level and I think you see that with humans too as they have more children."

Speaking of experience, meet Fredricka, a.k.a. Freddy.

"Freddy has him on her at all times," said Elena Less, associate animal curator.

Freddy is the surrogate mom to Kayembe, six months old, who is the first gorilla baby born at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

"It's been fantastic," said Less. "We were actually the first zoo to ever have a baby fostered on day one."

Even more incredible, about 3 months ago, Freddy -- who is 47, has had a hysterectomy, and seven children of her own the last of whom was 20 years ago, started producing milk for Kayembe.

"Him suckling from her had stimulated her to lactate," said Less.

Less said they know of something similar happening with zoo gorillas only once before, but it was with a mother who had just had a baby.

"Given her (Freddy’s) age and how long it had been since she had had a baby, we just didn't think it was possible. We are just completely shocked!"

Less said gorillas are fantastic mothers, and as a mom herself, she sees a lot of similarities.

"I've watched Freddy put him in tummy-time,” said Less. “She lets him take calculated risks, but she's always right there. She always has him on her; she carries him on her back, she wears him as a fuzzy bracelet we call it where he'll cling to her arm, and so he's just always with. She's just so patient and it's amazing to watch."

Less said Kayembe’s birth mother had a baby at another zoo and didn’t raise them.

So, she says they worked with the whole gorilla troop for about two years on how to care for a baby just in case Kayembe’s birth mom again refused to care for her child - which she did -- and Freddy was the first to rush in and immediately scoop him up.

Planning for a baby at accredited zoos is a lengthy process that's handled by a species survival plan and based on genetics and behavior. The curators said zoos get recommendations to begin breeding once it's determined they have a good pairing.

In honor of Mother's Day, the zoo is offering free admission for moms.

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