Heartbreaking image of a loving mother struggling to accept her baby son is dead

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GANA the gorilla clutches her baby to her chest, clinging to the hope that the infant could still be alive. She holds the lifeless body up in the air, desperately trying to restore movement to his lolling head and limp limbs.

Then she puts the baby on her back and walks around, stopping to look at him after a few paces to see if he has recovered.

It is a sight that has reduced visitors at the zoo in Germany where Gana lives to tears.

The 11-year-old great ape's baby, Claudio, died suddenly in his mother's arms on Saturday at the age of only three months.

Like any mother, Gana had tended to him day and night, and she appears to be struggling to come to terms with the idea he is dead.

She has been guarding the body so fiercely that zoo keepers have been unable to take it away.

Dr Bill Sellers, a primatologist from the University of Manchester, said great apes become very attached to their young, in the same way that humans have a close bond with their children.

"There's a very strong bond between mothers and young in all great apes," he said.

"There is the same sort of biological role as with humans. Infants are helpless at birth and need to be looked after in exactly the same way."

Gorillas, the largest of the primates, have DNA that is 98 per cent identical to that of humans and they are our closest living relatives after chimpanzees. There is a similar gestation period before babies are born, the animals value familial contact and, like humans, they use tools.

Although there is no proof that gorillas feel grief, Dr Sellers believes they do go through emotions of pain and loss similar to humans. "It seems to me that it's very difficult, if you've ever been close to the animals, not to think they have emotions like ours. But, of course, it's extremely difficult to prove scientifically that they do," he said.

"My feeling would be that she would be going through very similar emotions to any mother."

He said it was normal for gorillas to carry the bodies of their babies around for a long time after they die.

"There are reported cases of it taking quite a long time for mothers to realise the infant is actually dead," he said. "You get the dead infant being carried around for a certain amount of time after death."

Jrg Adler, director of the zoo in Mnster, suggested that visitors could benefit by watching Gana's reaction to her loss.

"Many of the visitors were themselves terribly shocked," he said.

"This, perhaps, is one of the greatest gifts that a zoo such as ours can bestow – to show that animals are very much like ourselves, and feel elation and pain. Gana lost a child, but I think, in that loss, she taught people here so much."

He went on: "Gana doesn't know it, but the whole of Germany is mourning with her. She is so sad right now."

Claudio appeared to be unwell last Wednesday, and by Friday, he was not eating or drinking properly and appeared to be getting weaker.

The zoo keepers kept a close eye on him, but he died suddenly on Saturday morning.

The cause of death will not be known until the body can be taken away from Gana for a post-mortem examination to be carried out, but it is thought Claudio could have suffered a heart attack.

It is the second tragedy for Gana. For reasons that are still unknown, she rejected her six-week-old daughter, Mary Zwo, last year.

The young gorilla was moved to a zoo in Stuttgart where she is healthy.


&#149 GORILLAS diverged from their closest relatives, humans and chimpanzees, about seven million years ago. However, they still retain many of the characteristics we recognise within our own species.

&#149 Gestation takes a very similar amount of time to human pregnancy, with the female giving birth after eight and a half months.

&#149 There are usually up to four years between births, and infants stay with their mothers for three to four years.

&#149 Females mature at the age of about 11, and males about a year later.

&#149 In 2005 gorillas were first spotted using tools. They have been recorded using sticks as if to gauge water depth while crossing swamps, using a tree stump as a bridge, and rocks to smash open nuts.

&#149 Like humans, each gorilla can be identified by an individual fingerprint.

&#149 They live in groups and show social behaviour, such as grooming.

&#149 Adult males grow up to 5ft 9in tall, and females up to 4ft 7in.

&#149 Most gorillas live up to the age of 50.

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