Awww-inspiring: Kansas City Zoo babies get ready for spring

Cuddly critters: Baby animals at KC Zoo get extra TLC

Zookeepers make a special effort when it comes to making sure the baby animals are well cared for.
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Zookeepers make a special effort when it comes to making sure the baby animals are well cared for.

Nothing says springtime like baby animals at the Kansas City Zoo. All the awwwws. All the feels.

Among the zoo’s youngsters: two chimps, a gorilla, an orangutan and some goats.

Yes, goats.

2 goats
Two sets of twin arapawa goats have been born at the Kansas City Zoo in recent weeks. Rich Sugg

See, we were skeptical when the folks at the zoo said their new goat babies were adorable, but they weren’t kidding.

(Sorry about the goat pun; they are pretty sweet.)

“Everybody loves a goat kid — everybody,” said Lindsay Class, assistant manager of the zoo’s Discovery Zone team. “Even if you don’t like goats. They’re just so cute. Their sounds are adorable. I mean, they’re just like a little toddler, except they’re a goat. Everybody loves watching them.”

The zoo has two sets of twins (maybe three by the time you read this), all just a few weeks old. They’re arapawa goats, a heritage breed native to New Zealand now considered endangered.

“They’re just a breed that fell out of favor,” Class said. “They don’t produce a lot of milk or milk fat or a lot of meats. So it’s a breed that farmers and ranchers and even zoos are starting to work on helping their numbers increase.”

If the kids are out and about, visitors can find them climbing the ramps and bridges in the new “Three Billy Goats Gruff”-inspired enclosure, which opened last month.

“They want to try everything,” Class said, “whether it’s good for them or bad.”

Or, in the parlance of goats, good or baaaad.

3 orangutan
Baby orangutan Dusty doesn’t stray too far from his mother, Josie, but as he approaches his first birthday in May, he’s becoming more curious and independent. On this day, the two of them got to play with streamers. Rich Sugg

Not to be outdone on the cuteness scale, the zoo’s new baby orangutan, Dusty, seems to have a perpetual case of bedhead.

Dusty will be 1 year old come May 23. He’s getting a little more playful, but he doesn’t stray far from his momma.

“Josie has been a great mom since Day 1,” said keeper Amy Sarno. “Maybe too great of a mom, because she’s super-protective.”

Even though keepers haven’t handled Dusty, they keep a close watch on him.

Before Dusty was born, keepers used a stuffed animal to train Josie to show them different parts of her baby, feed it a bottle or pass it over to keepers. Because of that training, Josie can hold Dusty up and move him around so keepers can examine him.

“It’s getting harder as he’s getting older because he’s a little less willing to be manipulated,” she said. “He wants to do his own thing.”

He still nurses, so he’s getting all the nutrition he needs from his mother. His teeth are coming in, though, so he’s trying some solid foods — mashed banana, sweet potato, some lettuces and leafy greens, as well as a biscuit formulated for orangutans.

He’s a bit of a shy guy, but he’s getting more curious.

“We had streamers in here the other day that he balled up and carried up to the top of the exhibit and was playing with them and tossing them around,” she said. “We’ve also seen him start to do some playful vocalizations.”

He’s also learning by watching the other orangutans. He’s figuring out that they have to press knobs to get water. He climbs the trees in the outdoor enclosure. And, in a couple of months, keepers will start training him to know his body parts, as the older orangutans do.

It might take a little extra time, though.

“If something is new and he hasn’t seen it before, you’ll see him run for Mom,” she said. “He definitely appreciates the comfort of Mom.”

4 chimp
The Kansas City Zoo’s 1-year-old chimpanzee Ruw (pronounced “roo”) was rejected by her mother at birth and raised by keepers and volunteers. Now she can hang out with the zoo’s 12 other chimpanzees. Rich Sugg

Over at the chimpanzee exhibit, baby Ruw had the opposite challenge.

When the 1-year-old chimp was born, her mother was attentive for a day or two but soon lost interest and started to neglect her. That’s when the keepers stepped in.

“We raised her, 24 hours a day, around the clock, bottle-feeding her, starting at every two hours,” said keeper Nicole McInnes. “At about 6 months old we started introducing her into the troupe with the other chimps.”

Keepers started reintegrating Ruw by introducing her to the other females, then eventually with the full group of 12 other chimps. These days, she likes hanging out with her 2-year-old brother, Milo.

“Milo is very rambunctious and independent,” McInnes said. “Ruw is a little bit more timid, but she has a strong personality as well. She likes to play with the other chimps, but if they’re being too rough with her, she barks at them and definitely tells them to leave her alone.”

1 gorilla
Masika, who will turn 2 on May 25, was the first gorilla born at the Kansas City Zoo in 40 years. She spends a lot of time with her mother, 29-year-old Makari, but she’s starting to play with the other females, as well as her father. Rich Sugg

While the chimps have two younglings, the gorillas have a rarity, at least as far as the KC goes.

Almost two years ago, Masika was the first gorilla born at the Kansas City Zoo in 40 years. Assistant manager Josh Murray says she’s growing like the proverbial weed, weighing in around 30 pounds. Keepers guess that at birth, the baby weighed around 5 or 6 pounds.

“We really didn’t have any way of knowing because Mom wasn’t about to let us check,” Murray said.

Murray said keepers are bumping up Masika’s diet every couple of weeks because she’s eating everything they give her. While she still nurses for comfort, she’s eating vegetables, greens, primate biscuits (they’re like a dog biscuit but made specifically for primates) and a little bit of fruit.

“We try not to give her a lot of fruit because she’ll start getting picky and she won’t eat her vegetables,” Murray said. “Typical kid.”

As she’s getting older (and Mom wants more alone time), Masika interacts and wrestles with the other females. She hangs out with her dad sometimes, too.

“She’ll try to steal his food, and he’ll give her a little nudge,” Murray said. “He’s 416 pounds, but when that 30-pound baby comes up to him, he’s extremely gentle and very nice to her.”


David Frese: 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese