Koola, a 9-year-old western lowland gorilla, gave birth to a 4- to 5-pound infant at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 1. Visitors who were in the zoo’s Tropic World exhibit at the time were able to stay and witness this remarkable event. (The sex and name of the baby is undetermined at this time.)
At Brookfield Zoo, all first-time gorilla moms are given special “maternal training,” which includes getting the mother-to-be comfortable with simulated breast-feeding and carrying objects that represent “the baby.” In anticipation of the expected birth, zookeepers had been working to help prepare Koola. She learned to present these items to keepers behind the scenes so that, keepers and veterinarians could offer medical or nutritional care for the infant in case of any unforeseen problems. This would allow for staff to intervene without having to separate the mother and baby.
“We were very encouraged to see Koola holding her newborn in the proper position immediately after the birth,” said Melinda Pruett-Jones, curator of primates. “Everyone is delighted about this new addition to Brookfield’s gorilla troop. This infant represents an important contribution to the gorilla population in North American zoos.”
Labor Day Comes a Little Early!
This birth is Koola’s first foray into motherhood and is especially significant because the newborn represents several important genetic bloodlines. Koola is the only offspring sired by Abe, a wild born gorilla who was at Brookfield Zoo from 1992 to 1995.
In addition, the father, Ramar, 36, is also wild born and this infant is only his second offspring, making it a precious addition to the conservation of western lowland gorillas. Ramar arrived at Brookfield Zoo in 1998 on a breeding loan from North Carolina Zoological Park, where he was the star attraction for more than 20 years. Even though he was one of the most well-known animals at North Carolina Zoo, it was agreed that Ramar’s transfer not only was in his best interest, but also would benefit the entire zoo gorilla population. The breeding loan proved to be a success, when in 2001 he sired his first offspring.
As the baby grows, zoo guests will be able to follow its development. In the next two months, it should grow to 5 or 6 pounds while developing thicker hair and a white tail tuft. The infant will cling to Koola, who should carry it everywhere. Like human babies, the infant will spend most of its time sleeping. After a few months, keepers expect to see the baby occasionally riding on its mother’s back and begin to play with Koola and eventually the other gorillas. It will also be able to focus on moving objects. The baby will stay close to its mother for about the first two years, and very likely will exhibit a lot of play behavior during this time.
Gorillas live in social groups composed of one to three adult males, several adult females, juveniles, and infants. When there is more than one male in a group, only one is dominant and serves as the leader known as the silverback. 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.
The western lowland gorilla is endangered due to habitat destruction, primarily from illegal and legal logging, the effects of war and refugees in ape habitats, the illegal pet trade, and poaching for bushmeat. The recent demands for bushmeat by an increasing number of urban consumers have grown beyond sustainable levels. Great apes are disproportionately affected by this industry because these large-bodied animals are easy targets for hunters, and their slow reproductive cycles cannot sustain the current drain on their populations. It is not known how many western lowland gorillas survive in their native land of West Africa (the forests of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Congo, and Angola). Some recent estimates have been between 90,000 and 110,000 individuals, but new surveys are needed to determine whether or not this figure is exaggerated.
Brookfield Zoo is a participant in the American Zoo and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan (SSP) for western lowland gorillas. The SSP is a carefully managed breeding and conservation program for this endangered species. Nearly 350 western lowland gorillas reside in North American zoos.
In addition to the newborn, Koola, and Ramar, the remaining members of Brookfield Zoo’s gorilla troop include Alpha 43; Beta, 43; Babs, 29; Binti Jua (Koola’s mother), 16; Bana, 9; and Nadaya (infant’s half brother), 3.
Update - Friday, September 3
Keepers and vets confirm that the newborn gorilla is female.
NOTE---Check back early next week when we will be posting video of Koola and her new baby!
Looking for Prime way to help these Primates?
Purchase a Ramar Western Lowland Gorilla Share the Care package online and help the zoo care for this "Big Daddy" and the rest of the troop under his protection. Get a personalized certificate, animal photo, and more---just for showing you care.