When Kucheza raised his little hand and Mahale realized he was there, everyone felt her joy.
Thanks to our close evolutionary proximity and Jane Goodall's years of field research, humans have an intense fascination with chimpanzees. They are clearly not us, yet they are clearly similar to us in many ways, and a viral video from Sedgwick County Zoo beautifully highlights that connection.
Mahale is a 28-year-old chimpanzee who recently gave birth to a baby at Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. According to KSAT News, her labor stalled, which necessitated an emergency C-section. As a result, Mahale and her baby were separated for two days while she started her recovery and her baby received oxygen.
Unlike humans, chimps don't have the language and cognitive abilities to understand what's happening in such a situation. It must have been a confusing experience for Mahale, who had already given birth to two babies prior, to find herself no longer pregnant but not having her baby with her.
So when the two were finally reunited, it was a moment to remember.
At first, Mahale doesn't appear to know her baby is there. Then he lifts up a tiny little hand and all her mama instincts kicked into high gear. Watch:
The sweet moment brought people to tears and quickly went viral. The way she scoops him right up? Every mama felt that.
The wee one was named Kucheza, which is Swahili for "play."
The keeper cam shows the two have been inseparable since then, cuddling, nursing and grooming as they enjoy their "babymoon" together.
"Mahale is THE MOST amazing mama," shared the zoo. "She hasn’t put baby down since she first picked him up yesterday morning and the two are IN LOVE.
The zoo has been posting regular updates on its Facebook page, with photos and videos of Kucheza and Mahale.
The reunion video has more than 30,000 comments from people who were moved by the mother's reaction to seeing her baby.
"Oh my goodness!! Sobbing!! The way she sees that little hand and rushes to hold her baby!! So beautiful!! Thank you for sharing," wrote one person.
"Aw man, I remember seeing my baby for the first time after waking up from an emergency c section," shared another. "I just started to cry and held him to my face. This is so sweet."
"Thanks so much to our dedicated keepers and staff for 48 hours of hard work to make this birth possible," wrote another. "We appreciate each of you so much. Also a heartfelt thank you to the Wichita doctors that attended to momma's surgery. We are blessed!"
The zoo has used the viral opportunity to share ways people can help the world's chimpanzee population.
"The whole world has fallen in love with Mahale and Kucheza, after catching a glimpse of their emotional reunion," the zoo shared on its Facebook page. "Chimpanzees in AZA-accredited institutions like Sedgwick County Zoo receive the highest level of care to meet their physical, emotional, and social needs - including the life-saving decision to deliver Kucheza via emergency C-section.
"All of the animals in our care serve as important ambassadors for their species. Mahale and Kucheza have reminded us all that chimpanzees are smart, charismatic, and amazing animals. And they need our help! Small actions - like recycling your old cell phones and using only sustainably-sourced (certified) palm oil and paper products - can help save chimpanzees like Mahale and Kucheza in the wild."
The Sedgwick County Zoo website shares ways people can make a difference in chimpanzee conservation here.