Primate staff at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) in Washington, D.C., are eagerly awaiting the birth of a critically endangered western lowland gorilla. With a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), the parents to be—20-year-old female Calaya and 30-year-old male silverback Baraka—bred in September 2022. The primate team is cautiously optimistic that she will deliver a healthy baby between late May and early July.

Calaya, a 20-year-old female western lowland gorilla, is pregnant with her second offspring and due to give birth between late May and early July at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. Credit: e Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

Confirming the pregnancy with a common human pregnancy test, the primate team trained Calaya to participate voluntarily in ultrasounds, allowing them to monitor fetal growth and development throughout the pregnancy. However, there is still a possibility of miscarriage, stillbirth or complications, as with any animal pregnancy.

“Every new birth contributes to the conservation of this species, as they are critically endangered in the wild,” said Becky Malinsky, curator of primates. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the western lowland gorilla as critically endangered due to habitat loss, disease and poaching, estimating that in the past 20 to 25 years, the number of wild western lowland gorillas has decreased by 60%.

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The SSP scientists determine which animals to breed by considering their genetic makeup, health, and temperament, among other factors. Calaya’s personality is described as both protective and cautious, while Baraka is relaxed and playful. Keepers are interested to see how a new baby may affect Calaya’s participation in training sessions and are most excited to see how Moke, Calaya and Baraka’s 4-year-old son, will react and interact with his new sibling.

The Zoo will provide updates on its gorilla troop through its social media channels, using the hashtag #GorillaStory. Visitors can also see the Zoo’s five gorillas and meet an animal keeper to learn about the fascinating world of gorillas at 11:30 a.m. daily.

The public can help protect western lowland gorillas’ natural habitat by making environmentally conscious decisions like recycling. The extraction of tantalum, a metal inside electronic devices, from the ore Columbite-tantalite (coltan) has resulted in gorilla habitat destruction and poaching. Recycling electronics that contain tantalum, including cell phones, computers, and GPS navigation systems, can help protect gorilla habitat by greatly reducing the demand for more expansive coltan mining.

The birth of this new western lowland gorilla is highly anticipated and brings hope for the conservation of this critically endangered species.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/EditorEditor-in-Chief

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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