Washington, D.C. – In a moment of joy and hope, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) announced the birth of a western lowland gorilla, a critically endangered species. The infant, born to 20-year-old mother Calaya and 31-year-old father Baraka, arrived between midnight and 6:15 a.m. on May 27. The successful breeding was carried out by a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP). This marks the second offspring for both parents.
Since the birth, the dedicated animal care staff have closely monitored Calaya and her newborn. The staff members have observed Calaya nursing the infant, who has been clinging tightly to its mother. While they remain cautiously optimistic about the newborn’s prospects, the sex of the infant has yet to be determined, as they are allowing Calaya to bond with and care for her baby without interference.
To provide Calaya and her infant a quiet space for bonding, the Great Ape House at the zoo will remain closed until Tuesday, May 30.
The keepers employed a human pregnancy test in October 2022 to confirm Calaya’s successful conception. By training Calaya to participate in ultrasounds voluntarily, the staff has been able to closely monitor the growth and development of the fetus throughout the pregnancy. NZCBI announced her pregnancy on March 23 and has been providing updates on its gorilla troop through various social media channels using the hashtag #GorillaStory. They will continue sharing updates, photos, and videos of the infant as more news unfolds.
Expressing her joy, Becky Malinsky, curator of primates, said, “We are overjoyed to welcome a new infant to our western lowland gorilla troop. Calaya is an experienced mother, and I am confident she will take excellent care of this baby, as she did with her first offspring, Moke. Since his birth in 2018, it’s been wonderful seeing her nurturing and playful side come out. I encourage people to visit our gorilla family and be inspired to help save this critically endangered species in the wild.”
The breeding decisions at NZCBI are made by SSP scientists who consider genetic makeup, health, and temperament factors. Calaya is known to possess a protective and cautious personality, and it will be intriguing to see how the new baby affects her participation in training sessions. On the other hand, Baraka has a relaxed and playful demeanor. Over the past few years, he has shown remarkable tolerance for his 5-year-old son, Moke. The keepers are particularly excited to observe Moke’s reaction and interaction with his new sibling, especially as the baby gorilla becomes more active and independent.
Gorillas typically live in troops consisting of a silverback male, one or more blackback males, several adult females, and their offspring. The National Zoo’s gorilla troop comprises Calaya, Baraka, Moke, the new infant, a 41-year-old female named Mandara, and her 14-year-old daughter, Kibibi.
Western lowland gorillas are native to Africa, specifically the forests of Gabon, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo. Due to habitat loss, disease, and poaching, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the western lowland gorilla as critically endangered. Scientists estimate that the population of wild western lowland gorillas has declined by 60% in the past 20 to 25 years.
To help protect the natural habitat of western lowland gorillas, the public can make environmentally conscious choices such as recycling. One of the essential minerals found in electronic devices, tantalum, is mined in areas where gorillas inhabit, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The extraction of tantalum from the ore Columbite-tantalite, commonly known as coltan, has led to the destruction of gorilla habitats and increased poaching. By recycling electronics that contain tantalum, such as cell phones, computers, tablets, cameras, gaming consoles, hearing aids, and GPS navigation systems, individuals can contribute to the protection of gorilla habitats by reducing the demand for coltan mining.
The birth of this western lowland gorilla at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo brings attention to the critical importance of conservation efforts for this endangered species. The zoo, along with various organizations and researchers, is actively involved in conservation initiatives to protect gorillas and their habitats in the wild.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan is vital in managing and breeding endangered species in zoos nationwide. By considering various factors like genetics, health, and temperament, the SSP scientists make informed decisions to ensure captive populations’ long-term survival and genetic diversity. The successful breeding and birth of the western lowland gorilla at the National Zoo are a testament to the effectiveness of these collaborative conservation efforts.
The public is encouraged to visit the zoo and witness the gorilla family firsthand, as it is a powerful reminder of the beauty and importance of these incredible creatures. The birth of the newborn gorilla brings hope and reinforces the need for continued support and action to protect endangered species like the western lowland gorilla.
In conclusion, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute celebrates the recent birth of a critically endangered western lowland gorilla. The successful breeding and birth are a result of careful planning and the dedicated efforts of the animal care staff. As the infant gorilla bonds with its mother, the zoo provides a quiet space for them to thrive. The news of this birth serves as a reminder of the urgent need for conservation efforts to protect the western lowland gorilla and its habitat. By making environmentally conscious decisions and supporting initiatives aimed at wildlife preservation, individuals can contribute to the long-term survival of this incredible species.