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Binti Jua - Gorilla Heroine

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Binti Jua1, a western lowland gorilla, was born in captivity at the Colombus Zoo, Ohio in 1988. Her father, Sunshine, was from the San Francisco Zoo and her mother, Lulu, was from the Bronx Zoo.

Binti's Upbringing

After Binti was born, mother Lulu could not produce enough milk to adequately feed her baby, so the zookeepers stepped in. The keepers worked in shifts to hold the two-month-old gorilla in their arms around the clock, imitating the way gorilla mothers would take care of their young, and Binti Jua thrived. In 1991 she was moved to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. Binti took well to life in the zoo and, at the age of six, the attentions of one of the elder male 'silverbacks' in her group led to her becoming pregnant.

Concerned that Binti had not had any maternal role models and might not be fully prepared to mother her own young due to being hand-reared2 in infancy, the zoo used a stuffed plush toy as a baby substitute and taught Binti how to breastfeed and care for her ‘baby'. A natural mother, when baby Koola was born Binti and her daughter were both prepared for family life.

Mother and Saviour

On 16 August, 1996, Binti Jua was in her outdoor enclosure, gently grooming Koola. Visitors to the zoo were all enjoying the sight of the gorillas, when suddenly a little three-year-old boy who had been playing along the barrier of the primate enclosure toppled over the edge and fell 18 foot to the concrete floor below.

The boy's mother screamed for help, but before anyone else could act Binti Jua stood up with Koola grasping the fur on her back and made her way to the unconscious boy. Lifting the child by his arms, Binti gently scooped him up and held him to her chest, rocking him softly as she carried him over to an access door. Another larger female gorilla approached, but growling softly Binti ensured the elder female backed away from the trio.

Zookeepers and paramedics had arrived at the entry point to the primate enclosure, and Binti carefully placed the human child on the floor in front of the door. The injured boy was rushed by ambulance to nearby Loyola University Medical Centre3, while Binti Jua calmly walked back to her regular spot under a tree and resumed grooming Koola.

After the Rescue

For her dramatic rescue Binti Jua made headlines worldwide, reports of her compassion even sparking philosophical and psychological debate amongst sociologists and animal behaviouralists. She also received a medal from the American Legion and an honorary membership of the California PTA, for simply doing a mother's duty.

1Which translates from the Swahili as 'the daughter of sunshine'.2Hand-reared animals often lack the mothering skills they would have obtained in the wild.3Four days later he had made a full recovery from his misadventure.

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