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Dublin: 14 °C Saturday 25 May, 2019
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'It's about being respectful... then the intimacy happens': The story behind those baby gorilla photos

We spoke to photographer Patrick Bolger on what it was like taking those intimate photographs of mother and baby.

The new baby gorilla in Dublin Zoo.
The new baby gorilla in Dublin Zoo.
Image: Patrick Bolger

“YOU’RE WAITING FOR those little moments,” says photographer Patrick Bolger, who snapped the intimate photos of new mum Kafi and her baby gorilla at Dublin Zoo earlier this week. 

The photos spread across social media, with many commenting on the caring, loving nature depicted in the pictures of mother and child.

Bolger has a good relationship with animals. He’s been Dublin Zoo’s go-to photographer for over ten years, and has seen his fair share of newborns experiencing the world for the first time.

His technique though? Be respectful, stay out of the way and most importantly, be patient. 

“It’s very much the case of the animal first, and everything else second,” says Bolger.

He says, like with humans, animals get more comfortable with you the longer you’re with them.

“It’s never about disturbing them, it’s never about intruding,” he says. “Patience is key then, because sometimes it’s a matter of waiting. A matter of sitting there and being there.”

It’s about being respectful of their space…then the intimacy happens. It’s a very intimate moment, a baby, a first-time mum.

 

DublinZoo First time mum Kafi with her days old new born. Source: Patrick Bolger

A privilege

Kafi and the baby’s father Bangui are western lowland gorillas and are classified as critically endangered.

A newborn is always a cause for celebration as predictions say 80% of the remaining western lowland gorillas in the wild will be gone by 2046 due to a mixture of deforestation, commercial hunting and disease.

Bolger remembers when Kafi and Bangui first came to the zoo. Now that he is seeing their baby, he feels like he’s marking the generations with his photographs. 

He was called in two or three days after the baby had been born. Kafi was very protective of the little one and had been inside the gorilla hut due to the cold.

It was around 9.30am and Bolger went into the keeper’s area with James Creighton, a keeper he has worked with many times and who Bolger says understands the animals very well.

Using a long lens, he peered into the gorilla hut, which was covered in a lot of shadow and darkness with only a small source of light for illumination.

“As a photographer the challenge is technical. It’s so difficult in low light,” he says. “So you push the boundaries of your camera with the hope that it all comes through.”

He says the aim isn’t to go in and take a load of photographs. The noise of the camera can disturb or frighten the animals if you are constantly clicking away. 

I’m happy to sit there and not take photographs, knowing that they’ll happen, knowing that they’ll come.

He says you wait for the little moments – the eye contact between mother and baby, the baby’s expression when it is being rocked in the mother’s arms.

DublinZoo Source: Patrick Bolger

“It’s a lovely thing to witness to be honest,” says Bolger. “It’s just the vulnerability in the picture that we all can identity with as human beings… there’s something very powerful about it.”

He spent about 15 minutes with them – a shorter time compared to other animal-based shoots, but within that time he had managed to capture an intimate and tender portrayal of love between a first-time mum and her days-old baby. 

“These are crucially endangered species and I think sometimes it’s just a privilege to just see how beautiful they are and how special they are,” he says.

It’s just a beautiful moment.

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