Como Park Zoo is celebrating the birth early Wednesday of a baby boy gorilla to Alice -- the first gorilla birth in the 55 years that Como has housed the large primates.

According to a news release, the baby weighs about four pounds and "appears healthy, strong and bonding with Alice."

Because bonding between gorilla mothers and their babies is so important, zoo officials plan to keep Alice and her son off exhibit for several weeks.

It's the first of two expected gorilla births at Como. Alice's housemate, Dara, is expecting and likely to give birth later next month or in January.

In both cases, the father is Schroeder, 29, who has lived at Como since he was a lad of five. Alice is 12, and Dara is 11.

Alice and Dara were among six gorillas moved to Como last year to live in the zoo's new $11 million Gorilla Forest exhibit, the largest all-mesh gorilla enclosure in North America.

Como's gorillas, while born in the United States, are descended from gorillas that inhabit the forests of central and west Africa. The gorillas, called Western lowland, are critically endangered.

Gorilla gestation takes about eight months. About 4 in 10 baby gorillas die in the first several months, which is one reason why zookeepers will be keeping a close eye on the new mother and baby. But zoo staffers won't intervene unless the baby's health is in jeopardy or the mother isn't doing her job.

Photo: Como Park Zoo & Conservatory