By JENNY STOCKS
Six month old baby Gorilla Okanda likes nibbling tables and making a mess with banana puree
Sarah Chapman felt the hungry baby stirring in her arms at around 2am and dragged herself, bleary-eyed, from sleep.
Propping herself up on the sofa where they had both fallen asleep, she made soothing noises and stroked the young one’s hair as he drank milk hungrily from his bottle.
But the doleful brown eyes staring up at her belonged not to a newborn baby but to Okanda, a six-month-old, 11lb gorilla with a penchant for nibbling tables and making a mess with banana puree.
Sarah became surrogate mother to the baby ape from Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire after he became too thin and malnourished feeding on his own mother’s milk.
A mother's touch: To begin with Vet Sarah Chapman had to bottle-feed Okanda at her home in Leicestershire every two hours
As the zoo’s specialist vet, the 34-year-old took on his full-time care, which meant nursing him back to health in her and her husband Julian’s nearby semi-detached home.
‘I’ve slept on the surgery floor many times watching a dog under treatment,’ says Sarah. ‘But I never imagined nursing a baby gorilla in my own lounge.’
Perhaps it was a small mercy that Sarah couldn’t have predicted the sleepless nights on the sofa, the medical procedures performed in the living room, and long days
Playtime: Slowly but surely Okanda is now becoming a hyperactive toddler
stuck inside the house with only a gorilla and the TV for company.
But now that Okanda — named after a national park in Western Africa — is on the mend and back at the zoo, I have come to Twycross to meet him.
On entering the one-bedroom bungalow (usually used as staff accommodation) near the zoo’s grounds where he is being cared for by a team of staff before being reintroduced to his family, Sarah is delighted to see her young charge again.
It's not my turn to change him: Okanda has to wear nappies around the house as he isn't house trained
Okanda is now making good progress, and the zoo’s main aim is to slowly try to reunite him with his pining mother, which they hope (but cannot be sure) will happen within eight weeks.
‘She has been searching for him, which is very sad to watch,’ says Sarah. ‘All the gorillas have been showing signs of tension, which is understandable.
‘Okanda is gorgeous and I miss having him around after being with him 24/7, but he’s not a pet. It will be incredible to see him back with his family, and hopefully one day he will become a 20st silverback with babies of his own.
‘That’s what all this has been for.’
Saturday, November 19, 2011
The gorilla in my lounge: How a British worker adopted a dying baby gorilla and nursed him back to health in her own home
By JENNY STOCKS