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Gorillas in our Midst

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"Here comes trouble," says McCann, laughing as the gorilla, Julia, begins to flirt shamelessly -- let's just call it a weird lip thing -- with a visitor. "Julia absolutely adores to be the center of attention," McCann continues. "They truly each have their own personality. It makes us cater to each one's individual needs. Some grow up together and keep their bonds -- the twins we want to keep together forever. We also see personalities in certain lineages. Huerfanita's offspring tend to have certain traits like her -- carefree, easygoing. This sounds anthropomorphic, but we're working with individual animals, and certain things come out."

McCann calls her experience with Timmy "a treat." "This was an animal who did not have any prior experience with infants, and he just turned out to be the most wonderful silverback," she says. "He really seems to enjoy youngsters; he's a great protector. We try to remind our keepers to think of a human late in life having to deal with many, many changes in lifestyle -- and Timmy's accepted them all incredibly well."

Well, perhaps Tunuka has helped? Yes, and this shows just how neatly Timmy has avoided becoming an aging-male cliché: Tunuka is a 36-year-old grandmother, an older woman practically, like Timmy wild-born and rather shy. "Tunuka likes to stay very close to Tim," McCann says. "They spend a lot of time together." They are -- let's not put too fine a point on it -- an item. Their daughter, Kumi, turns 1 this month.

So Timmy can survey the lush hills and waterfalls and hassock-size faux elephant dung of his new estate with pride. He can view with calm the okapis and hornbills and red river hogs and, sure, eastern gray squirrels (sciurus carolinensis) that frolic across his domain. But in the end it's the fact that he's surrounded by so much family that gives him perspective and a measure of tranquillity, and represents his real achievement. Here is a gorilla who has truly drunk life to the lees and yet can regard it all, the reversals and the triumphs, with both feet -- better make that all four hands -- firmly on the ground.


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