In January, for the “Baby Boom!” calendar post, I wrote about little Nneka who is the younger sister of this month’s “Chillin'” featured animal. On the upside, there’s already a good story about this terrific family (Charles, Ngozi, Nassir, Nneka); on the downside, I won’t have nearly as many good photos to share with you for this blog piece so it might be a bit shorter than normal, and I apologize for that in advance. But I’ll tell you what I can about this young gorilla and his love for his little sibling while he was still with the main troop. He’s now been moved into a “bachelor troop” with his big half-brother Sadiki and at some point down the road I believe the plan is to move the two of them off to another Zoo together. This was necessary because Sadiki was becoming a danger to Charles, the silverback, and needed to be separated from him – but not on his own. It was a shame because Nassir was ridiculously proud of Nneka, but it had to be done.
In the early days of Nneka’s life Nassir was quite a handful. Used to being the sole light in his mama’s eyes – and only recently weaned himself – this was quite a normal push-back. I vividly recall a day early in 2014 when I watched Nassir pick up handfuls of dirt and throw them at virtually everyone else in the exhibit (yes, even Charles) until he picked up one last one and started towards his mother. She was leaning on one elbow, Nneka nestled in the crook of her arm, and simply looked up at her young charge and stared him down. After a moment or two, Nassir quietly and slowly put the clump of dirt back on the ground and toddled off, which is likely the main reason he’s still around for me to be able to write this story at all. He didn’t completely calm down, though: he eventually made his way back down the hill to Charles and began to poke at him to get a rise out of him. Eventually, in that way that all stoic and calm fathers have, Charles turned around, pushed his young antagonizer down to the ground, and basically sat on him until Nassir stopped vibrating. It was a brilliant display and instantly brought back memories of similar situations I had had with my own children at a similar age. Priceless and wonderful stuff.
It wasn’t long, though, before Nassir assume his role as big brother and grand protector. As Nneka began to move farther and farther away from her Mom’s watchful eye, Nassir picked up some of the caregiving duties and started to keep especially close to his baby sister, even without actually looking like he was paying any attention to her at all. It was incredibly sweet to watch him sit nearby as Nneka would approach visitors at the main window, swooping in after just enough time with the humans to whisk her away to “safety” where he could show her how to thump her chest, or barrel-roll down the big hills, or swing from a rope, or myriad other fantastic games that young gorillas play. And if he wanted to stop but Nneka didn’t, he would often pick her up by the hands as in this photo at left, swing her over and around his shoulders like a wriggling, giggling knapsack, and spin around in tight circles until he eventually placed her back on the ground, all dizzy and out of breath and giddy from excitement. I don’t spend a lot of time with the gorillas (or, actually, with many of the primates for whatever reason) but I fondly recall passing many hours during the time these two were the best of friends and playmates. It was magical.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. As I mentioned earlier, the day came when Nassir left the family unit to try to bond with the much-larger Sadiki. It was slow progress but more recently I’ve seen them… well, if not actually playing together then at least not annoying each other away from the rest of the main troop. I’d love to fill you in on more of the plans for these two but I simply don’t have any further information at this point. If I come across any (feel free to add it in the comments or drop me a line!) I’ll tack it one as an “addendum” to this piece in later days. For now we’ll content ourselves with watching him grow into a strong, handsome adolescent and await the day he “explodes” into hugeness as Sadiki did in the Fall of 2015. Let me tell you: that was something to see. I’ll end this story here with a repeat of the shot I used in Nneka’s story: Ngozi, Nassir and Nneka all together in a beautiful little family shot.
Next month: an animal that I’ve never featured in any of my calendar’s before, mainly because it’s proven very difficult to capture in a photo. Enjoy the last weeks of Summer!