The Pittsburgh Zoo welcomed a new baby gorilla on the morning of February 9. Since giving birth, Mom Moka is often found sitting near the indoor viewing window in the gorilla area holding the baby, offering visitors a fantastic view of their bonding time, as captured in the video below.
“Moka is a first time mom so we were anxious to see how she would handle motherhood, but she is doing a great job,” says Karen Vacco, assistant curator of mammals. “The baby is nursing and Moka holds him tightly against her chest.” Moka was raised by her mother and has a younger sister, so she learned maternal behavior from her mother.
First time dad Mrithi visited the baby after its birth and has been staying close to Moka, but not interfering. “The rest of the gorilla troop has been curious but respectful,” says Roseann Giambro, gorilla keeper. “They will take their cues from mom who will let them know when she is comfortable with them being close to her baby.”
Western lowland gorillas are endangered. In 2007, scientists had estimated their populations to be just about 100,000 in the wild, but an outbreak of Ebola destroyed much of the population dropping their numbers close to 30,000.
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In terms of their numbers in the wild, the Wildlife Conservation Society made an amazing discovery—a population of 125,000 western lowland gorillas—were found living in the northern Republic of Congo. Though this is great news, western lowland gorilla populations are still in peril due to loss of habitat, poaching, and disease. One of the main threats is mining. Coltan, a mineral used to make cell phone batteries and other devices is mined in Central Africa. As the demand for battery-powered devices occurs, there is a corresponding increase in mining, destroying the gorilla’s natural habitat.
Moka was born at the Miami Zoo and arrived at the Pittsburgh Zoo in 2007 in hopes of breeding with silverback and troop leader Mrithi. At first, keepers were not optimistic because Mrithi and Moka were not interested in each other. Moka is smart and curious, but aloof and preferred to be by herself. She completely ignored Mrithi’s advances. Gradually, attitudes changed, and the pair was spotted together.
This is the first gorilla baby born there in more than a decade - since 2001.
“The birth of Moka’s baby is an important event in Zoo history,” says Ms. Vacco. The baby’s father, Mrithi, was the first gorilla born at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and now his son is the second generation. Mrithi’s parents were wild caught, so his genetics are valuable to the western lowland gorilla species in North America.