Western lowland gorilla Dolly learned how to be a good mother with the help of, well, a dollie!
  • 1970s

Primates learn many things by example, including, in the case of Dolly the gorilla, parenting skills! Separated from her troop when very young, Dolly didn’t grow up in the company of older female gorillas, so she didn’t observe how mothers would care for their babies. So when she gave birth to her first baby in October of 1973, a boy named Jim, she had no idea what to do with him and ended up rejecting the infant. Jim was successfully hand-reared at the Safari Park (then the San Diego Wild Animal Park) Nursery.

When it became apparent Dolly was pregnant again the next year, a “motherhood training” program was implemented at the Park. A team—including Dolly’s caretaker, Ricky Cuzzone, and a team of anthropology students and professors from San Diego State University—used a canvas pillow “doll” to help teach Dolly how to pick up, carry, cuddle, and feed a baby. After giving birth to Binti, a female infant in October of 1974, the new mother—with the support of her “coaches”—was able to care for her offspring. Jim was reintroduced to the troop soon after, and the family integrated nicely.

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