Friday December 5, 2003
Mayor Jerry Abramson and Zoo Director Dr. Bill Foster today proudly announced the successful birth of a Western lowland gorilla. This is the first gorilla birth to take place at the Louisville Zoo.
The mother, Makari, and baby are doing fine and are currently residing in the viewing areas of the Sanctuary in Gorilla Forest, with available off exhibit space for privacy. (Please Note: Makari and the baby are free to move between the on-exhibit and off-exhibit spaces. The Zoo can not guarantee that visitors will see the baby at any given time.)
The father, 475-pound JoJo, is calm and staying pretty close to Makari. Two of the other females in the group, Bahati and Madini seem very interested in Makari and the infant as well.
Abramson and Metro Council President Ron Weston offered the first gift to the Zoo’s newest arrival, bringing a 25-pound basket of bananas to the zoo this morning.
“We want to make sure our newest community celebrity feels welcome in its new hometown,” Abramson said while delivering the gift basket. “The Gorilla Forest is one of the top attractions in our community. The newest arrival will only add to the excitement.”
It will likely be several days before the sex and weight of the baby can be determined although like most infant gorillas, the baby will probably weigh between three and five pounds. Infant gorillas typically hold on tight to mother for the first few weeks and then will still stay close but ride on mother’s back at the first three-month period.
Details of birth: During Makari’s pregnancy the Zoo’s veterinary staff had established a potential window of time during which she would likely give birth. “We are certainly at the early end of the time frame,” said Associate Zoo veterinarian Dr. Zoli Gyimesi.
Gorilla Forest Supervisor Roby Elsner indicated there were no signs of labor when staff checked on Makari at around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. However when the gorilla keepers saw Makari the next morning at 8:15 a.m. she was carrying a baby that was “dry and clean”
according to Elsner. Dr. Gyimesi went on to say that in the coming days Makari and the infant will be closely monitored. “We will watch for maternal behaviors in Makari and we’ll want to be sure the baby is nursing properly and showing signs of vigor,” said Gyimesi.
Importance of the birth: Because wild gorilla populations are threatened with extinction due to habitat reduction and hunting, and since there are only 350 gorillas in 51 North American zoos, each birth is a celebration of life and a step toward preserving the species. The 16-year-old Makari and 23-year-old JoJo bred this past spring. This is Makari’s second pregnancy. Six-year-old Jelani was her firstborn, and she was a good mother to him. (Jelani now plays with the other youngsters in Frank’s group.) This is JoJo’s first surviving offspring and since his mother was wild born, any of JoJo’s offspring will add valuable diversity to the gorilla gene pool in North America.
The Gorilla Species Survival Plan, an American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) animal management group for accredited zoos, recommended the breeding of JoJo and Makari. Goals of the group include maximizing genetic variation and maintaining a self-sustaining captive population of gorillas.
Foster noted that the birth is not only a joyous event but is a validation of effective husbandry and of the functionality of the exhibit design. In fact, Gorilla Forest was just awarded the coveted 2003 AZA (American Zoo and Aquarium Association) Exhibit Award based on the criteria of outstanding dedication to conservation issues and construction of exhibit space replicating natural habitats.
Gorilla Natural History: Gorilla mating is non-seasonal and usually produces a single birth after a 237- to 285-day (or a mean of 8.5 months) gestation period. Birth weight is four to five pounds and young cling to the mother within a few days of birth. Infants will crawl at about nine weeks and walk quadrupedally (which means on all fours) at about five months. They are weaned at two to three years of age.
While females sexually mature at seven to eight years (males somewhat later) they normally breed when they are old enough to fulfill adult roles in the family. In the wild, both males and females leave natal (birth) troops to join other troops. Life expectancy is up to 50 years in captivity, or 35 in the wild.