A gorilla born by emergency caesarean has celebrated her fourth birthday – marking the end of zookeepers giving her daily milk.
Afia, whose name means ‘Friday born child’ in Ghanaian, was delivered by emergency caesarean section in February 2016 after her mother showed signs of pre-eclampsia.
It was the first time a gorilla had been born by the procedure at Bristol Zoo Gardens and one of only a handful of instances of it happening worldwide.
After her birth, the western lowland gorilla received 24-hour care from a team of four keepers at the zoo as her mother Kera remained critically ill.
She was fed formula milk every two to three hours and spent her days near the gorilla troop, before travelling in a car seat to one of her keeper’s homes for overnight care.
Kera recovered but showed no maternal interest in Afia, with another gorilla at the zoo stepping in to act as a surrogate mother.
Keepers continued to give Afia, who was fully integrated in the troop at 10 months old, milk each day but that will end now she has turned four.
Lynsey Bugg, curator of mammals at Bristol Zoo, said: “She only has 200 millilitres each day so it’s really just a token gesture but it will come to an end on her fourth birthday as she doesn’t need that sort of help from us any longer.
“She has done really well.”
The zoo’s most dominant female Romina became a surrogate mother to Afia in 2016, with the pair becoming inseparable.
Romina developed inoperable cancer and died shortly before Christmas two years later.
Since then, Afia has been supported by the six other western lowland gorillas at the zoo including the group’s silverback Jock.
“Afia is amazing. After losing Romina, she has become a lot more independent but she has also become very close to Jock,” Ms Bugg said.
“They sleep close to each other and he has been seen to pull her close so he can groom her, a behaviour we rarely see from him which demonstrates a very close bond between the pair.”
Western lowland gorillas are classified as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
They come from an area of dense forest and swamp that covers South East Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
Scientists believe that gorilla numbers have dropped by more than 60% over the past 20 to 25 years.
The gorillas at Bristol Zoo are part of a European breeding programme to safeguard the species.