Date: 12 Oct 2016
Belfast Zoo is celebrating the birth of a critically endangered Western lowland gorilla.
The latest arrival was born to mother, Namoki, and father, Gugas, on 28 August 2016. Newborn gorillas cling to their mother’s stomach for the first few months. For this reason, keepers have only recently been able to discover that the infant is a girl and she has now been named Olivia.
Gorillas are family-oriented animals that live in groups called troops. A troop is made up of one silverback male, several females and infants. As well as Namoki and Gugas, the new arrival has joined Delilah, Kwanza, Kamili and infants, Baako and Kibibi.
Father, Gugas, is Belfast Zoo’s silverback gorilla. He was born in the wild but had an unfortunate start to life as his parents were killed, probably for bushmeat. As a young, orphaned gorilla, he was acquired by a Portuguese circus and became very ill. He was abandoned at the gates of Lisbon Zoo and was then moved to Stuttgart Zoo to live in a nursery group for orphaned gorillas. He arrived at Belfast Zoo in 1998 and is genetically very important to the European breeding programme as he is under-represented in the zoo population. In 2012, with no sign of any pregnancies, the zoo tested Gugas’ fertility and the results were not promising. In fact, it was felt that Gugas would never father any young.
Julie Mansell explains “All ape species are endangered or critically endangered. Gorillas are facing the real and severe risk of extinction in their native habitat. The all too familiar problem of habitat loss and the gruesome yet growing bushmeat trade are the main reasons for this iconic species’ decline. Not only are the young targeted for the pet trade but adults are also killed for bushmeat and trophy hunting. In this instance, their young are taken and sold as pets but they frequently die of starvation or disease within days, and this could easily have been Gugas’ fate! His story highlights the very real problems that these primates are facing in the wild and the growing importance of zoos in the ongoing conservation efforts. We take part in a European and collaborative breeding programme which aims to ensure a viable safety net population. This programme is managed by a committee of experts. It was recommended for Namoki to move to Belfast Zoo and we welcomed her in 2014. Gugas was smitten almost instantly and we are delighted to welcome their little arrival! Despite our concerns and the less than promising fertility test results, Gugas has defied the odds. In fact he has had an extremely busy few years, as this is the third infant that he has fathered since 2013!”
Western lowland gorillas come from the dense forests of western central Africa. Gorillas are the largest of all primate species (a group of animals that includes monkeys, lemurs, orangutans, chimpanzees and even humans).
Julie continues “Our mission, as a zoo, is to be a major force in conserving and safeguarding habitats and wildlife to make a significant contribution to their survival in the future. One of our roles is to support conservation links between captive populations of endangered species being managed ex situ (outside of its natural habitat) and wild populations being managed in situ. We support a number of in situ conservation campaigns. So not only does the zoo breed gorillas, we also try to highlight the issues to raise public awareness and provide support to projects such as the cross river gorilla project run by the Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria. Gorilla populations have declined by more than 60 per cent over the last 20 to 25 years. Our gorillas are firm visitor favourites and people definitely have an affinity for the apes, possibly as they are our closest relatives. However, without major conservation efforts, the reality is that apes could be wiped out within the next few decades and within our own lifetimes, showing the fragility and magnitude of the situation.”
You can support the care of Belfast Zoo’s gorillas by taking part in Belfast Zoo’s animal adoption scheme. Find out more about the animal adoption scheme at www.belfastzoo.co.uk/adoption, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 028 9077 6277 extension 229.
Find out more about Western lowland gorillas