The Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo, is happy to announce the birth of a male Western Lowland Gorilla to 11-year-old Kamba, on September 23. Kamba has grown up in a strong, stable family group at Brookfield Zoo, where she has gained the social experience and confidence she needs to be a good mother.
Kamba and her infant, named Zachary, can be seen in the zoo’s Tropic World: Africa habitat along with Koola (Kamba’s mother), age 20; Nora (Koola’s second daughter), almost 2; Binti Jua (Koola’s mother), 27; and JoJo (the infant’s sire), 35. This birth marks four generations of Western Lowland Gorillas currently in the group at Brookfield Zoo.
The pairing of the adult female gorillas at Brookfield Zoo, including Kamba, with JoJo, who arrived in 2012 from Lincoln Park Zoo, is based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Western Lowland Gorilla Species Survival Plan. A Species Survival Plan is a cooperative population management and conservation program for select species in accredited North American zoos and aquariums. Each plan manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. Currently, 339 Western Lowland Gorillas live in 48 accredited North American zoos.
JoJo is one of the most genetically valuable males in the Western Lowland Gorilla SSP population and is an especially good match for the adult females at Brookfield Zoo. “Having JoJo come here has been a great success story and demonstrates the collaboration among the zoo community to effectively care for this critically endangered species,” said Craig Demitros, associate curator of primates for the Society. JoJo has a calm disposition. He was very playful with his offspring at Lincoln Park Zoo and he has shown the same interaction with Nora at Brookfield Zoo. “We anticipate he will continue to be playful with Kamba’s infant as it gets older,” added Demitros.
A newborn gorilla weighs between 4 and 5 pounds at birth. Zachary has a strong grip and will cling to Kamba’s abdomen. When he is 3 months old, zoo guests will be able to observe him riding on Mom’s back with his white rump tuft, signaling ‘baby on board’. About a month later, Zachary will start to sample small pieces of food. However, nursing will continue until he is 3 to 4 years old. Also, at 4 months old, the infant will start to explore on his own but will stay within arm’s reach of Kamba.
Gorillas live in social groups comprised of one adult male, several adult females, juveniles, and infants. As they reach sexual maturity, both males and females typically leave the group in which they were born. They either establish a new group or join an existing one.
Western Lowland Gorillas are classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List, primarily due to commercial hunting for the bush meat trade. Their population is also affected by: diseases (such as the Ebola virus), the illegal pet trade, and habitat destruction from logging. It is not known how many Western Lowland Gorillas survive in their native West Africa (the forests of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Congo, and Angola). Some estimates have been between 90,000 and 110,000 individuals, but new surveys are needed to determine whether or not this figure is exaggerated.